The Perceptions on Sight in the Works of William Blake and Brett Whiteley

Artists use their work to express themselves. They might be seeking to voice their feelings, experiences, or even observations. William Blake and Brett Whiteley have grown to become very popular. Their artistic and literary works are explicit expressions of their personal abilities, skills, as well as opinions. Both their works share certain creative, expressive elements. It is quite apparent that both artists have a deep interest in the influence of sight and how one sees as expressed in some of their works though Blake is seen focusing more on Biblical matters while Whiteley focuses on life experiences but with a common ideology on the use of ‘sight’.

According to Harrison, more often than not, what artists express in art is indirectly expressed and described (174). He also states that there is not one particular truth as to the real evaluation of different artistic expressions and evaluations. In this context, it is assumed that the process of painting has ironies that involve it which might never be demystified rather people express their own theories and conclusions on the same.

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As such, we can also not state categorically what Blake and Whiteley were seeing in their artistic works. However, we can try and express our idea of why we believe sight is important to them and how they have applied it. 

Harrison states, “the art of seeing is not to uncover meaning but to watch what is being done and to see what cannot be done again and meant” (174). The laws of art are ingrained in the application of description in art.

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However, there is also influence by the art of seeing on how artistic works are developed. As such, we can use the term sight when explaining how artists work using in different contexts without missing the mark. In consideration of the art of sight, Blake and Whiteley can be construed as having used it to develop their works. In the context of Blake’s plates from ‘The Marriage from Heaven and Hell’ as well as his engravings to “The Book of Job’, it is possible to depict how he used sight. Whiteley’s ‘Alchemy’ on the other hand, shows how the same is applied.

In his book titled ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,’ Blake departs from the conformist Christian theology. Notably, he has several radical conclusions against this theology. Perhaps one of his most controversial opinions is his view towards the ideology of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross (Schock 442). Blake denies the concept of original sin which served to legitimize Christ’s death on the cross. However, it is important to focus on the reason why he concluded that way. Blake is of the opinion that human beings are prisoners of their own making. He believes that the ideologies expressed by man are as a result of his limited thinking. In context of this analysis, one can conclude that to Blake sight is used to express one’s understanding or viewpoint. Notably, Blake concludes that man construes only what he allows himself to. Whiteley, on the other hand, has his own ideas.

According to William Blake, perception is what controls man. As noted by Schock, the perception of man can be altered to enable man to see and perceive things are they truly are (442). Blake indicates that he believes things to be infinite. Perhaps this is what he sees when he does his portraits. Notably, Blake wrote his book during a time when London was going through a rough patch. He wrote the book in imitation to prophecies as expressed in the Bible.. According to S. Foster Damon, Blake deduced that the war in London was a necessary force that was fighting the already established order (23). From this ideology, Blake changed his belief pattern which was expressed in his book.

Interestingly enough, his book is written in a first-person prose. The narrator, who goes to hell, details his experiences which are contrary to what the Bible teaches. Looking at some of his plates in ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, one can start to appreciate his perception of the impact of ‘seeing’. Plate 3 and Plate 5 are good exemplifications of the same. In ‘The Book of Job’, Blake has a very interesting perception of the Bible. Notably, he refers to the Laws of Moses as ‘Stony’ laws as he ‘saw’ them philosophically (Damon 25).

Plate 3 and Plate 5 are both unique in their own way. In Plate 3, Blake tunes into his comical self. He uses this Plate to express his view that there is no progression where there are no contraries (Stefanos). Interestingly, he restates his ideology through this plate that good is a passive reason while evil should be considered to be powerful energy. This is against the common human belief. This particular plate indicates that Adam’s return to the Garden of Eden can only be through the realization of these contraries (Schock 445). As such, he is of the opinion that the Christian views on certain biblical facts are biased and only serve to blind them from realizing this truth. Plate 5, on the other hand, echoes his views on reason and desire.

It is Blake’s opinion that human beings can be able to control their desire using their reason. He indicates this perception in Plate 5. Notably, Blake believes that Christians are shaped by what they were told since they were young (Stefanos). He believes that this information helps form their belief status. Blake discusses the five senses in a not so positive way. He indicates that he (the author) visits hell to collect some of its proverbs (Blake & Max 20). Apparently, he believes that Christians only criticize pleasant things due to what they see. This should be considered in the context that they see according to what they have been taught. We also see Blake furthering his ideology through his interest in the book of Job.

Blake’s views about what happened in the book of Job only exemplifies his different beliefs in the context of what other Christians believe and are taught by the Bible. When we observe his illustration of this particular book, we see several instances where this plays out. For example in Plate 1, Job is presented as the God fearing man as indicated in the Bible. The term ‘Killeth’is included in the portrait (Damon 25). It is used to show that when one follows the conventional Christian teachings, they die from the truth. He also indicates that after one does so, they become isolated. Interestingly, we see Blake believing part of the Biblical teaching about Job, yet he offers a contradiction on what he believes are the consequences of following the scriptural laws. This conclusion is also based on what he believes and sees.

Plate 21 is another example of how Blake is obsessed with perception. Here, Job is portrayed as one who is enjoying life after a hectic time on earth. Blake illustrates Job enjoying his new found meaning in life after a struggle trying to understand heaven and hell (Damon 27). According to Blake, the struggle that Job went through trying to understand these two powers was an eye opener to the reality before him. Interestingly, we see Job’s family enjoying using instruments. Notably, these instruments were not within their reach there before. It is like they also got a new revelation and ability to use what they have or what they could not see. Conclusively, Blake’s art is religion oriented and perhaps how he best chooses to use his ‘sight’.

Looking critically at Whiteley’s works, one might think that he was schizophrenic. His artistic activity which led to the making of the Alchemy could not be considered as conventional but great imagination. He displayed his perception of seeing through his art. The Alchemy helps create an expression of a possible state of the human mind. The artistic work shows a process of change in life using a transitional theme. The artist uses the eye to create an artwork whereby the art itself shows a journey through life. The life is detailed through what he sees, and it is in context to the composites of the material world (McGrath 32). The alchemical process concludes with Panel A and B. These are illustrated using golden hues. Whiteley uses the Alchemy to express his opinion that the invisible can be illustrated (Elkins 105). He reveals the power of sight through his artistic description of the infinite. 

In consideration of the kind of artistic works that are presented by both Blake and Whiteley, sight can seemingly have the same meaning though they both focused their work on different areas of life. For instance, looking at Blake’s plates as well as engravings, we notice his obsession with contradictions towards Biblically taught facts (Damon 29). His works are controlled majorly by his belief in the subject matter. As Blake believes that things are infinite, he displays this belief in his art. Seeing according to him can be related to what he does. This is based on the assumption that he brings forth what is in him. Apparently, since he did his book during a time when things were not going on well in London, it is assumed that he was also expressing his opinion of the current affairs.

As Blake related to the current issues, he did his works in a first person prose. While discussing Heaven and Hell, Blake is not shy from standing out from the common beliefs. In this context, he details his ideas and opinions with a touch of humor. As he describes the laws of Moses, he does so with his philosophy in mind. As such, his definition of sight would be what one sees in context to the boundaries set by their philosophical background. Looking at his Plates, we see Blake using opposites to state his ideology. Using both negative and positive aspects of life in the same portrait depicts his notion of how the two relate. As such, he indicates that harmony of the two can be realized through sight. However, it is important to note that he is indicative that this can only be achieved first of all in the mind.

On the other hand, Whiteley has an interesting way of describing sight. His artistic works indicate his belief of it being possible to see life as it happens. With the possible state of the human mind that is portrayed in his art, Whiteley suggests that the eye can be used to create. To Whiteley, seeing is just but perception based on experience. He uses his Alchemy which illustrates his journey through life to detail this viewpoint (McGrath 32). Notably, there are similarities in how these two great artists see yet not without some differences. Their similarity and difference can only be determined through having a thorough look and understanding their works. Both Blake and Whiteley works are adamant when it comes to expressing their personal views and agendas through their artworks. Notably, Blake focuses on Biblical concepts in his art, while Whiteley looks at life from a personal experience point of view. They see the world from their viewpoints and not through other ideologies and standards that have been set by other persons or bodies in their environment. In this context, we can consider Blake’s controversial opinions in regards to the Bible and its principles. On the other hand, Whiteley expresses his unique opinion that the invisible can be seen and thus expressible. Similarly, this is a view against popular belief. However, in another perspective, their perception of sight differs in that Blake sees through a third party while Whiteley sees through his own eyes. Nevertheless, their artistic use of sight is incredible.

Works Cited

  1. Blake, William, and Max Plowman. The marriage of heaven and hell. JM Dent and Sons limited, 1927.
  2. Elkins, James. “Four ways of measuring the distance between alchemy and contemporary art.” HYLE-International Journal for the Philosophy of Chemistry 9.1 (2003): 105-118.
  3. Foster Damon, William Blake. His Philosophy and Symbols. London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969.
  4. Harrison, Charles. Essays on Art and Language. MIT Press, 2003.
  5. McGrath, Sandra. “Brett Whiteley’s’ Alchemy’.” Quadrant 22.9 (1978): 32.
  6. Schock, Peter A. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:’Blake’s myth of Satan and its cultural matrix.” ELH 60.2 (1993): 441-471.
  7. Stefanos Vassiliadis, An Analysis of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”,
  8. Munich, GRIN Verlag, 2006. Print. Whiteley, Brett. ‘Alchemy’ Notebook: Notes for the Painting. Sydney, N.S.W.?: s.n, 1973. Print.
  9. Zanoletti, Margherita. “Translating an Imagetext: Verbal and Visual Self-Representation in Brett Whiteley’s Interior, Lavender Bay (1976).” TTR: Traduction, terminologie, rédaction 26.1 (2013): 195-220.

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The Perceptions on Sight in the Works of William Blake and Brett Whiteley. (2021, Sep 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-perceptions-on-sight-in-the-works-of-william-blake-and-brett-whiteley-essay

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