A Matter of Perception

Image by William Blake

We all take our very ability to look out at the world and see, feel, hear and smell with our innate senses, for granted. And sometimes I have to pinch myself into recognizing the almost supernatural gift it is to perceive. Also, that my mind and heart are singular and unlike anyone else’s. As an artist, perception is everything. What I perceive with my eyes, experience and feel with mind and heart is the source of my art. The image arrives at this intersection of experience and matter. And the artist, through the artwork, unifies perception to a form that is permanent. The subject and the object become one embedded in this ‘new’ substantial image, the artwork. The “esse-est-percipi”, to be is to be perceived (Berkley) is William Blake’s call to honor the power of the imagination. ¬†” To be perceived, therefore, means to be imagined…Therefore nothing is real beyond the patterns men make of reality, and hence there are exactly as many kinds of reality as there are men.” (Northrop Frye’s paraphrasing of William Blake, Fearful Symmetry, p.19) If this is true, all perception is a creative act that brings ‘life’ into matter. Perception is a mental act that is generative. Therefore all men are creators to some degree.

But Blake goes still further, not only are there an infinite variety of imaginations (one per man) but also of quality as well. Therefore, the more one puts into his imagination, the greater the quality of his existence and more importantly of his daily experience of the world. Frye states regarding Blake, “Hence, if existence is in perception the tree is more real to the wise man than it is to the fool. Similarly it is more real to the man who throws his entire imagination behind his perception…the more unified the perception, the more real the existence.” (Ibid., p. 21) My experience of reality hinges on my own imaginative focus. If I am fully engaged and take my perceptions to be creative acts, my lived experience will be richer. The man who honors the imagination has a greater emotional intensity to his experience and is an inherently creative individual. Is not this the life of the artist? The frightening and awesomeness of this idea is that the imagination, can not only manifest something new but that the quality of one’s own existence depends on the same source- the imagination. “The imaginative mind, therefore, is the one which has realized its own freedom and understood that perception is self-development.” (Ibid., p. 23)

Blake holds the artist up as having an ideal engagement with the world because the artist’s activity is to visualize and therefore to realize materially through the image a unity of perception and experience and turn it into ‘vision’. Blake believed that vision is the source of all positive change and is the path to the city of Golganooza. Golganooza is Blake’s term for the city of imaginative insight whose structure is made from the images of all artist of all time. This city will be visible when our perceptions are made clear, which he believed, would happen at the end of time. This ties in to Blake’s belief that all images are permanent and therefore all perception when tied to vision has efficacy not only on a personal level but one for humanity as well. Vision leads to freedom.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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