tapir in a suit

anatomy of Norbiton


supplemental notes, pt.iii


...how I prefer to look at them.


My glasses do not have pebble lenses.

However, I do need to put my spectacles on to look at paintings. I wouldn’t say my eyes are failing, but I have a slight astigmatism which almost imperceptibly blurs detail, and which requires correction for proper full-on fine-grained looking.

I sometimes find myself wondering, in consequence, if I really am seeing what I am looking at, or if I am experiencing only an artfully deviated and tinctured stream of photons, a mimicry of the correct functioning of an eye.

With van Eyck’s Canon Joris the difficulty is exacerbated by the presence of a protective screen of glass; your view - my view - is inevitable if fractionally compromised by a misaligned sequence of smutched layers. You can take your glasses off and peer around the side of the protective glass, assuring yourself that you have now seen Canon Joris with your own eyes. You can rest easy. But all you in fact see is an unreadable slab of painted matter, your eye at an angle of incidence to the canvas of about five degrees. So far from resting easy, you now need to account for your own Byzantine superstition, your need to be in the unmediated presence of the holy icon.

No. You must accept that seeing is always thus mediated, a composite of visual and psychological events.

I have to that end occasionally stood in front of paintings with a pair of binoculars. Similarly painters often use mirrors to check the progress of their work, its proportions and symmetry. Perhaps this multiplied looking is a condition of understanding. Glasses on or glasses off, I should not worry.