Updike Interview At The NEH

This interview with John Updike at the NEH included this affirmation of the visual arts:

INTERVIEWER: In the Renaissance, you get the invention of one-point perspective, which also is not really the way we see. We see much more, I think, impressionist­ic­ally, but somehow we think that we see in perspective. It is amazing how these conventions work on us as well.

UPDIKE: That’s so true, isn’t it? Of course, the human eye moves all the time. It’s unnatural for it not to move. To paint in the very precise way of Holbein or Van Dyke is to freeze the seeing process in a way that is highly unreal. Surreal, one could say—Dalí and Max Ernst have this same uncanny precision, of the frozen eye.

Visual art is very fertile ground for this kind of philosophical—existential—speculation, especially now that the abstraction has spoken up so strongly on its own behalf. Now, we’re not really sure what we’re looking for. What is excellent—what is excellent about this piece of abstraction as opposed to this other piece? Why is Rothko so eloquent, for example, and Hans Hofmann not? Hofmann is a thrilling theorist but his paintings look like linoleum.


The frozen in time quality of images is outside of normal experience. Add to that the suggestive quality of mind and vision; truly the visual arts are another reality, evoking speculation, circumspection, yes, perspective.