Jonathon Clarkson lecture 7/10 – The Human Body

Jonathon ran a lecture querying whether the human body as an object, is materialistic or a spiritual being. He discussed how a person within a piece of artwork is depicted as an object or as a person, relating to how an artist reveals the soul and character of a human being through the paint work, as opposed to an anatomical being. I believe that this can be projected onto real life perception also, relative to the concept of schema of the mind: we have a network of different ‘packets’ of information about different people that we know which we have associations to based on our preconceived ideas and retrieved memory, therefore granting a personal and subjective perception of someone that only belongs to our mind. Likewise, a person of whom we don’t have any knowledge of, would be perceived as more of an objectified human because there is no relationship to any accessible knowledge, or any influence from the minds projection.

Jonathon correlated his proposition to Caravaggio’s paintings, beginning with John the Baptist from 1602.


We discussed elements of the piece that would suggest the perception of John the Baptist that Caravaggio had: contradictory signs of age which could potentially suggest the maturity that Caravaggio interpreted, leading onto the masculinity portrayed through the definition of muscle that challenges the soft, childlike and almost femininity of John the Baptist’s face; the intimacy the captured amorous pose which advocates a voyeuristic approach, perhaps enlightening an affectionate relationship between subject and painter. Caravaggio’s use of light as a subject matter is extremely important in the depiction of the objectivity of a person due to the religious zeitgeist. Jonathon showed The Calling of St. Matthew, another Caravaggio piece from 1599-1600, to display his use of light:


Although being criticized for painting in a dim cellar with just one source of light, it did engender a high contrast seen throughout his paintings, important for emphasizing the use of light and perhaps a purposeful approach. We discussed where the light in this piece is coming from, because although there is an obvious source in the top right-hand corner, the subject in the foreground is lit from a closer direction, as are the legs underneath the table. We followed on to focus on the gesture made by Jesus in this painting, of which is a passive hand action calling on St. Matthew to become disciple. The arrangement of figures suggests that the originally established source of light is heavenly and the direction of the hand of Jesus, as a disciple of God, is emphasizing that aswell.


Jonathan then introduced some more typical Caravaggio-style, concentrated light in this piece names Conversion of St. Paul from 1601. I found the sense of material or spiritual objects within this piece slightly more obvious after observing the light use in The Calling of St. Matthew because I was then more aware of the intentions of Caravaggio through light. I see the horse as a material being in comparison to St. Paul lying on the floor. Although the horse has a large area of light on it’s figure, it’s movement and positioning of it’s legs and body is highlighted more so than it’s character, therefore not necessarily showcasing relationship to the animal. St. Paul, on the other hand, has contradictory light shone to emphasize his position of which is very distinctively full of faith and allegiance toward the light itself.

In each of these Caravaggio pieces, Jonathon mentioned the slightly off, unnatural behavior of the light which I appropriated into how light works and moves: is Caravaggio proposing light as a consciousness? This also expands zeitgeist because of the suggestion of the light being heavenly itself; the light could be godlike and used cleverly to paint the spirituality of the religious characters.

We moved on from Caravaggio’s work to some more recent artworks by John Coplans:

john coplans

Hands Holding Feet (above) from 1985, also uses light as an important matter. This piece in particular makes me skim over the feet as objects and my mind responds by alerting my own preconceived idea of feet and their purpose and function. The gripping of the hands on the feet also suggests the sense of material being and the sense of physicality, and in comparison to Caravaggio, Coplans has not used such a strong contrast – confirming that the more strongly highlighted images creates more spirituality and picks up on the schema of which the artist has on the subject.

I can appropriate using light as an important subject matter quite significantly in my own practice because the relation to human features being seen the way myself as an artist perceives that person is relative to personifying the ideas I have on theories of the conscious mind. I could alter the contrast of an image to emphasize the light and therefore draw attention to different aspects of the object, particularly like what Caravaggio did when portraying John the Baptist.


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