Paul Cézanne’s Birthday

Lynne Kiesling

Today’s Google banner celebrates the 172nd birthday of Paul Cézanne, my favorite artist. I love how he unpacks the underlying layers of geometry in landscapes. When I first saw the painting above, Le lac d’Annecy, in the Courtauld Gallery in London when I was a college student, it literally took my breath away.

Last year when I read Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was A Neuroscientist, I was riveted by his chapter “Paul Cézanne: The Process of Sight”, because he articulated so clearly (where I cannot!) why I respond so strongly to Cézanne’s art:

His paintings were about the subjectivity of sight, the illusion of surfaces. … But Cézanne believed that light was only the beginning of seeing. “The eye is not enough,” he declared. “One needs to think as well.” Cézanne’s epiphany was that our impressions require interpretation; to look is to create what you see.

We now know that Cézanne was right. Our vision begins with photons, but this is only the beginning. Whenever we open our eyes, the brain engages in an act of astonishing imagination, as it transforms the residues of light into a world of form and space that we can understand.” …

… Cézanne’s art exposes the process of seeing.

None of this, or its appeal to someone like me, should surprise any of you familiar with Hayek’s The Sensory Order. On a related note, see this post from Steve Horwitz on The Sensory Order and optical illusion.