Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 013
William Cullen Bryant is shown here in a portrait by Allston's former student Samuel Morse. Today, Morse is more famous for the telegraph, than for his painting, but Morse was a founder and first president of the National Academy of Design in New York City. Today, William Cullen Bryant is better known for his poetry, than for his occupation as publisher, editor, and owner of the New York Evening Post. Among Bryant's poems are many that refer to such visions: Castles in the Air, A Tale of Cloudland, and The Hunter's Vision. In The Hunter's Vision Bryant wrote, "As if the vapors of the air had gathered into shapes so fair" and in the Hunter's Vision is, "...friends, the dead, in boyhood dear there lived and walked again..." We should not be surprised that William Ellery Channing wrote in one review of Bryant's poems, "He always seems to be talking of what he has fully experienced in the most natural exercise of his faculties." [Brown, p. 195]

There is a significant point here regarding the issue of "perceptible truth." Images can in fact be seen in cloud vapors and other natural forms. We can see "the man in the moon" and "the big dipper," but even today we can also have our own discoveries as we look at things around us. Such seeing is a part of human experience. Many who were associated with Allston did, in fact, seek and enjoy seeing illusions in Nature.

There is a significant perceptual problem here. Imagine that Welles, Allston, Channing, et al were to come back today, use our latest digital cameras to take a photograph of a spiritual image they see in Nature, and then show us the photo. In the photo, they would still see what they saw, but when they try to show us what they see, most likely we would not see it, at least not at first. Even if an artist were to reproduce that scene, that moment in Nature, as a painting, such that the artist could look at the painting and see the illusion, most likely we would not see it there either. We need to learn to see such images. That is what this presentation has begun to do. In this first part, we are working on your rational expectations.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website