Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Are Light and Shadow Opposites?

There is a symbolic and even spiritual dimension to light and shadow. Several religious movements have dualistic cosmologies, conceiving of light in opposition to shadow or darkness.

Rembrandt, The Risen Christ

Some religious and philosophical traditions associate light with wisdom (literally 'enlightenment') and darkness with ignorance.

Others have revered light as positive and good, while regarding the dark side as evil. Judeo-Christian religions view light and darkness as opposing forces in the universe. 

There are lesser known religious traditions such as Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism that have developed this dualistic cosmology with stories of epic battles between heroes of light and enemies of darkness. Both religions emphasize the importance of choosing the path of light over darkness to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Where do these ideas this come from? Well, if you’ve ever been outside in a forest on a moonless night, you know how the absolute darkness can overpower you and blind you. A candle or a lamp flickering in that darkness can seem like a victory over fear and vulnerability.

We rarely experience that kind of profound darkness in our modern life, especially in cities. There are only different degrees of dim illumination. And shadows in the daytime aren’t very dark at all.

When I consider the daytime world from a painter’s perspective I have to look beyond these ideas of shadows as a sinister force. I think instead of shadows as a partner or a friend of the light. Here are some of the takeaways:

Light becomes visible only with the help of shadows.

Daytime shadows aren’t the absence of light; they’re just just areas with weaker illumination.

You don’t increase the effect of light by driving out or eliminating shadows. You do it be surrounding and supporting the light with darkness.

If you want your picture to convey a feeling of light, the first step is to plan the shadows. 
Shadows surrounding an illuminated area enhance it and define it. My curiosity about the topic of light and shadow has led me to learn more about 

More at this YouTube video 



Jim Douglas said...

A very thought-provoking topic. I am reminded of Sarah Williams' words from her poem "The Old Astronomer" (1868):

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night.

Christoffer Gertz Bech said...

"But every shadow is ultimately also the daughter of light, and only he who has known light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only this one has truly lived."

(The last lines of Stefan Zweig's memoir "The World of Yesterday")

Susan Krzywicki said...

The quote, "If you want your picture to convey a feeling of light, the first step is to plan the shadows..." is another, more poetic way, of saying "get your values right", isn't it?