The Use of Light in Bill Henson and Caravaggio's Work

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Through the use of light, artists continue to receive a strong emotional response from the audience. This is an essential element of an audience’s perception of a work – it may determine whether the artwork is perceived as happy or depressing, or even provides the difference between whether the work is friendly and welcoming, or shocking and confronting. Artists have used light for a long time to stimulate the emotions of the viewer. Two artists that have used this technique are Bill Henson and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, or more simply known as just Caravaggio. Bill Henson is a contemporary Australian photographer, born in 1955, while Caravaggio was an Italian painter (1571 – 1610). When Henson’s photographs are viewed through the subjective frame, they are looking to induce an emotional response from the viewer, while through the cultural frame, they are depicting the themes and issues of adolescence, isolation, the urban landscape and more. When Caravaggio’s work is similarly viewed through these two frames, his paintings induce an emotional response from the viewer, and his work is culturally significant. His paintings are often depicting scenes from history, a recurring theme being religious scenes from the bible. There is a similar key tool used by both artists to reach their audience. This is their use of light. Both Bill Henson’s and Caravaggio’s work includes a similar dominant stylistic device. This device is called ‘chiaroscuro’, which is an Italian term, meaning ‘light-dark’. It refers to the tonal contrasts used in art. Caravaggio was a pioneer of a style of painting called Tenebrism (literally translating to ‘murky’), in which a leading aspect was the dramatic lighting and prominent, heightened chiaroscuro. Caravaggio’s use of tenebrism brought a dramatic feel to the subjects, heightening the emotional intensity of the work. This intensity was then transferred to the viewers through the subjects of Caravaggio’s works. The subjects were most...
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