Artwork Vanessa Bruce
Have you heard the old saying? The eyes have it? What does this mean? Ot how about the eyes are the window of the soul? Or the evil eye?
Eyes are complex, next to the brain, one of the most complex organs of the body.
Eric R. Kandel is a neurobiologist, Professor at Columbia University, author of several books on brain science and Nobel Prize winner of 2000 in Physiology and Medicine.
He wrote a book in 2012 titled The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain.
He delves into the well-respected artist, Gustave Klimt at the turn of the 19th century; now labeled the art of the unconscious. It was a time in Austria’s culture that Klimt left traditional art and led the way to expressing on canvas the inner working of the mind and emotions of people. It was called the Art Succession– Secession refers to a number of modernist artist groups that separated from the support of official academic art and its administrations in the late 19th and early 20th century.
He was followed later by Oska Kokashaka, the first Austrian expressionist who chose to strip away the beauty of Klimt’s display of the soul. Oska wanted to paint the agony and rawness of the soul, the inner workings in a new form.
Sigmund Freud work was also gaining a presence and following at this time in Austria. The rising of awareness and exploration of the human psyche originating in Austria and catching like wildfire subsequently in Europe and America.
In Kandel’s book, he incorporates the visual way we perceive art through the literal physiology of the eye.
The eyes do have it! It begins with the cones and rods in the eyes (cause for direct vision and periphery vision). On the cellular level, the retinal ganglion cells use receptors to take in critical information and reduce the minimal information through the eyes. This is called action and inhibitor. It is the difference in absorbing light in ways that we are able to see contours and contrasts.
The retina in the eyes transforms and encodes an image from the visual world into action potential. This is where the information is conveyed to the lateral geniculate nucleus and then finally to the brain (the thalamus) which travels to the cerebral cortex (the large part of our brains). Here it deconstructs and constructs the information and creates the representational image we call seeing.
The message is the eye goes through all the mechanisms which we have no awareness of; seeing seems so common, so expected as part of our vital senses. Vision gives us different perspectives, different insights, and lastly it lets light in and gives us definition of shapes and colors and sizes. It guides us and navigates our way in this world.
Which turns me away from the art and physiology to another subject- the use of the word light in scripture. There are so many verses with so many meanings. Christ claimed to be The Light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of Life (John 8:12). Or Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines a light on you (Luke 11:36).
In Isaiah 9:2 (the Old Testament) the prophet writes-The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. Genesis 1:4 says that God saw the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. The book of Proverbs gives a definition of the human spirit-The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being (Proverbs 20:17).
There are more than 100 references in the Bible regarding the word light. Why? why next to the word Life, Salvation, and Spirit are there so many?
Kandel explains with great depth how the eye filters and receives light. His predecessor, the Austrian scientist, Stephen Kuffler was the first scientist to examine vision and how the eyes’ retina affected visual stimuli (1959 Harvard Medical School). His successors David Hubel and Tortsen Weisel shared a Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1981 for their work on information processing in the visual system.
Great minds studying light and the eye. Kandel regarding the courageous and radical artists that broke away from traditional art to explore the inner workings of the mind of humans. Large amounts of verses in the Bible emphasizing light as critical to the inner spiritual man. It’s all about seeing and receiving -on the cellular level, on the visual level, and on the spiritual level.
I ponder all these things but, I especially want to go deep with the meanings of the word light. The light has so many meanings: illumination (literally and figuratively); a lamp or match or daylight; the aspect of a subject or belief, its perspective, angle of interpretation; and understanding-comprehension, insight, awareness. and the expert-the leader, the guide, authority and master.
Taking these definitions and plugging them into those 100+ verses might give us more depth of understanding and a guiding light (sorry for the play on words-couldn’t resist).We might receive insight and illumination within our mind and emotions (the heart), and we might be guided in a new way.
Rather literally, figuratively, artistically, or spiritually, the eyes do have it!