The Limits of Likeness

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Ernst Gombrich’s The Limits of Likeness touches upon the influence of artists’ styles in their works. This particular author refers to art in the representational sense in his story of the German and French painters in the beginning. Although the Germans attempted to prove their skill by painting the same subject, they fell prisoner to their individual styles, and each turned out slightly different. Each artist was attempting to recreate, or represent, the Roman scene. In addition, the author believes that an artist can only render what his tools and medium allow. For example, an artist holding a fine pencil will search out lines when attempting to render a scene, while one holding a coarse brush will look in terms of masses. Another concern is the difference between what an artist’s eyes sees and what he perceives. A photograph taken from the point of view of an artist would seem to represent what the artist saw when he looked at the landscape. However, it actually is a representation of what the artist perceives, after taking in the entire scene and painting how he imagines it. This is why no two paintings can be the same, even if painted from the same point of view. Yet another point Gombrich touches upon is the fact that in the early times, such as the 15th century, artists were not concerned with representing an exact replica in regards to book illustrations. They were more concerned with the reader simply understanding that they were attempting to show a city, but not a particular city. The final observation of art the author chooses to make involves painting what one knows. He claims, with adequate proof, that an artist will paint what he or she already knows. The artists will paint what is familiar, and rightly so. If their audience is one that is only familiar with one type of tree, for instance, painting a different type would confuse them, and the purpose of the tree would be void. He asks the question of how much we see is affected by our habits and...
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