Post 51

Roy G. Biv: What I Really Think About Impressionism,
Children's Toys, Cartoons and the Rainbow

The beauty of creation stems, to a large extent, from its multi-colouredness, a word which my spellchecker complains about.

It seems like the mono-coloured (another word my spellchecker dislikes) things are far rarer. At first I couldn’t think of any, but milk is all white, and sulfur is all yellowish. I think. Hmm. Or does milk even seem to have a faint blue line around the edge when its not as creamy? Does it seem tinged with yellow, especially at the edges when it is creamy?

Well, those are the tricky cases.

For the most part, you’ll be hard pressed to find things in nature which are solid colours (my spellchecker complains again at my Canadian version of “colours”). We think of a banana as yellow, but really, it’s got all kinds of other colours in there, such as tiny flecks of brown and white.

An apple or any other food is really very multi-coloured if you look at it, and with other things in nature such as leaves or flowers, you don’t even have to go outside to check. You just have to bring it to your mind to agree that they are very multi-hued.

Much of the beauty of nature derives from this trait.

When we see animals who appear to have more deliberate ‘lines’ on them, like the panda bear, the penguin or the zebra, we are amused because we know that’s kind of an exception in nature. And of course, closer inspection will show that these lines are composed of a very subtle kind of blending – thousands of little zebra hairs are fading into each other in this orderly pattern.

The impressionist painters capitalized on the multi-colouredness of nature, and exaggerated it. My dad’s friend recently went to Europe, and although only some of what he said relates to art, I’ll insert the whole thing because I thought his comments were insightful:

Europe is dying though. There are no young people. Graffiti is rampant in places. In touring art galleries, I think the slide may have begun at the end of the Renaissance. The top tier artists cannot be matched in imagination or depiction. I think that expressionists just painted what they saw and unfortunately they were nearsighted. From there art just becomes chaotic.

WWI changed Europe for the worse. A lot of people lost their faith and their trust in family or political institutions. The US did not suffer the devastation and kept itself together. Modern Europe is devoid of native children, heavily populated by immigrants who don’t assimilate (but have children), and the various nations have started to bicker with one another again. They sure are committed to green energy, almost to the point of worship.

In saying that the artists were near-sighted and lacked imagination, my dad’s friend (who is not a religious fellow) echoes Chesterton, who was critical of impressionism:

But I think there was a spiritual significance in Impressionism, in connection with this age as the age of scepticism. I mean that it illustrated scepticism in the sense of subjectivism. Its principle was that if all that could be seen of a cow was a white line and a purple shadow, we should only render the line and the shadow; in a sense we should only believe in the line and the shadow, rather than in the cow . . .

Whatever may be the merits of this method of art, there is obviously something highly subjective and sceptical about it as a method of thought. It naturally lends itself to the metaphysical suggestion that things only exist as we perceive them, or that things do not exist at all. The philosophy of Impressionism is necessarily close to the philosophy of Illusion. And this atmosphere also tended to contribute, however indirectly, to a certain mood of unreality and sterile isolation that settled at this time upon me; and I think upon many others.

— G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography, Chapter IV “How to be a Lunatic”

The problem with impressionism is that it leaves out the most important thing about objects: their limits. One object does not blend in with another. Colours do blend within objects, but the objects don’t blend with each other. The colour isn’t more important than the object itself. The lily-pad doesn’t become one with the water (unless it’s rotting into it) so that one thing becomes the other thing.

As I write this, I’m aware that impressionism is the most popular form of art.

I think it’s because it’s kind of blurry. It’s clear enough so that you can understand what it is (later art is so unclear that the populace just isn’t interested anymore) and yet fuzzy enough that you can feel unchallenged by it. Once you’ve looked at it and been able to figure out what it probably is, you’ve ‘solved’ the riddle and you can pat yourself on the back and move on. It’s not like the Renaissance or medieval work which is ‘beyond’ you, and which deserves your respect and attention – every corner of the canvas is covered with detail and so there’s always more for you to study. (Abstract art, by contrast, is like the tantruming child which screams for attention in the room, with its bizarre lines or obvious unnatural shapes.)

Yet impressionism is only one way to do it wrong. Impressionism exaggerates the multi-colouredness of our world so that the colours are the most important thing. The edges or borders are removed.

Nowadays we go in the opposite direction where we have no blending and now the borders are the only thing that matters. Consider animation for example. Go back to the leaf or banana in your imagination and convert it into an animated leaf or banana. How is this done? You create some sort of stereotypical outline and then colour it all one colour. You’re done.

Animation is therefore generally ugly.

There are, of course, degrees of ugliness. The best artists try to add as much detail as possible, in order to make the objects look more realistic and interesting to consider. The animators of Totoro, for example, retained a high degree of detail and therefore realism (which is not to say I like the movie; my views on it have changed 180 degrees) which makes the images compelling.

I remember looking at a sample of animation done by the wife of EquitableOne. She drew a child colouring with pencil crayons, and at the end of each pencil crayon, she had drawn a tiny circle of colour, representing the crayons the way they really are. Those are the kind of details that will give a child more ‘food’ for observation and thought. It’s more work, obviously, but it shows a diligence and self-respect that artists should have.

But at the other extreme, artists will misrepresent the human person. Instead of drawing the hand of a person with four fingers and a thumb, they remove one of the fingers. There’s no good reason for that, especially for a talented artist. I’ve written about the human hand before. If you are going to draw a person, draw the whole hand.

But the main problematic distortion of the human person is with the eyes. The increasing trend is to present people or animals as having gigantic eyes. This is not right. People are not lemurs, and all these other animals aren’t either, so why make them look like that? And why make the eyes of dolls and ponies gigantic and slanted and sultry? What is going on here? The manufacturers seem to be mixing the doe-like appearance of a child’s face with some kind of prostitute.

Sadly, there is an ever-increasing amount of the hideous and ugly art out there. I also can’t stand the bulging eyes covered with red vein lines (did that start with Sponge Bob?) and the one-eyed monsters. I place much of the blame at the feet of “Dr.” Seuss. Genius though he was, he is largely responsible for the exaltation of Ugly.

Why are we acting like this is good or funny? Is it really? Is it clever or inspired? Anybody can make a bad drawing or an ugly thing – that’s easy and not admirable.

In a world that already has a lot of sad things and pain, why don’t we try to create and promote things which are beautiful?

The best artist will attempt to show the beauty of the human person and nature, with realism in line and shade. God’s forte is his ability to blend so harmoniously and subtly, and the best artists do the same.

Why do we fill the world of children with colours which are so unblended? Why do we fill their world with toys made of plastic? Plastic is dyed with one colour at a time, and so we offer them object after object which is without nuance and subtlety. At least in the olden days, toys were wooden, so a child would be holding and considering an object which was inherently beautiful, both from a tactile point of view as well as a visual one.

Nowadays we change their world into a world of cartoons. Are we worried that they won’t be able to see their toys if we don’t make them hot pink and bright yellow? Yet their eyes are fresher than ours are; in general vision declines with age, instead of improving. My dad once speculated that perhaps for children, colours are more vivid than they are for those who are older. If this is true, then we’re ‘screaming’ at children with the toys we give them, like writing emails in all-caps.

And we do this for children with their religious art. Please don’t give them a colourful cross or a cartoon Jesus with two dots for eyes. I insist: children can appreciate real art. A children’s bible shouldn’t have ‘dumbed down’ illustrations. Let’s respect children by giving them images that we think are tasteful. If we think it’s kind of ‘dorky’ and don’t admire it, then why give it to our children? Aren’t we almost putting our faith into a laughable box when we do that? Instead of making the religious concepts ‘accessible,’ we’re making them ridiculous.

And as for the rainbow which has now been hijacked for social agenda reasons, well, they can have that one. It’s a cartoon mockery of the real thing. FearlessOne pointed out that it has only six colours, and he explained the significance to me of the number six. If I recall correctly, it represents, in the Hebrew teaching, the notion of incompleteness. Seven represents completeness he said.

When I learned in junior high school science about the colours in the rainbow, I was taught to remember a fictitious name, Roy G. Biv, representing Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. That was important so that you could correctly name all seven colours in the correct sequence.

Some illustrators, out of ignorance or laziness, I suppose, omit one or more of the rainbow’s colours. I’ve even seen it reduced to something like four colours, which strikes me as bizarre, since I would think that an illustrator would welcome the opportunity to draw something which is beautifully colourful. Otherwise I wonder if he dislikes his occupation.

It is unfortunate that the rainbow has been transformed into a symbol for something else nowadays, in the same way that I’m not entirely happy that the colour pink so often means anti-bullying or fighting breast cancer. I feel that these causes are taking more than their fair share of the world in order to create reminders of their special interest. The special interest may be fine (or maybe not), but somehow claiming a whole colour (or, in the case of the rainbow, all the colours) – well, that seems a bit greedy.

The rainbow, for more than 2000 years, has represented God’s covenant with mankind, a promise that he will always be there for us, and will never again allow a flood to destroy everything. The sheer beauty of it in terms of colour (God here blends seven colours across a very narrow span) and shape (an arc from horizon to horizon) captivates people and especially the young. It is unfair to take it away from the children and make it into a symbol for a topic which is not suitable for the young.

But I realize that the cartoon rainbow is just a caricature, and the real rainbow will always put it to shame, showing the cartoon version to be an imposter of what is genuine. (Just ask Roy G. Biv.)

The real rainbow will continue to appear in the sky and glow with all its gentle beauty, as does the rest of God’s creation, and I hope that our eyes are young enough to appreciate it.