Winslow Homer:
The Obtuse Bard
 
VISUAL IMAGINATION TRAINING

Winslow Homer recorded an obtuse poetic side in his art. Homer's intensely personal phenomenological side also may function as a device to convey feelings and ideas following a technique suggested by Washington Allston. On The Obtuse Bard Website, visual examples and documented research papers about Homer's obtuse and intensely personal side are available for viewing and reading.

Homer viewed the world influenced by the ideas of those who surrounded him as a child in Cambridge, Massachusetts, especially the ideas of painter/poet Washington Allston, Allston's brother-in-law Richard Henry Dana Sr., and Allston's friend Benjamin Welles. In the writings of Allston's friends, especially Dana Sr. and Welles, there are discussions encouraging people to literally see "forms of departed friends in the white clouds" as common everyday experiences. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (to whom Allston read his "Lectures on Art"), William Cullen Bryant (a friend of Dana Sr.), and James Russell Lowell (who replaced Longfellow at Harvard) also made references to seeing such illusions in their poetry.  For most people today, experience with such images is usually more abstracted, limited to images such as "The Man in the Moon" or the constellations. While we may be familiar with references in literature to people seeing illusions, most of us have little actual experience seeing illusions. In fact, in todays world, we tend to shutout such experiences. There is clear evidence however, Winslow Homer, as a child, had people around him who enjoyed seeing illusions and encouraged others to do so. In Homer's paintings, Homer recorded what he saw, including illusions that were also visible to him in those forms. At this web site, you will see some examples of illusions Homer saw and recorded in his works.

Washington Allston suggested in his "Lectures on Art," artists should use such images in paintings as a device to convey additional ideas and feelings. The effect of such a mechanism may be greater when the viewer is not consciously aware of the cause. Homer's use of Allston's device can be seen throughout his works, beginning with his earliest childhood drawings. The paper Homer's Childhood in Cambridge presents a detailed discussion of Homer's childhood in Cambridge and Allston's probable influence.

An artist who paints the moon might "improve," or idealize, the image of the "man in the moon." Homer idealized images that he painted. This can be seen in examples where a sketch is available to compare with the final work. Especially see the Boat Builders example.

Images shown here as examples are among the easiest to see, which is the first reason they were selected. Seeing the sample images is not enough however, since it is important for viewers to recognize that Homer actually saw and intentionally painted such images. More importantly therefore, the examples shown here were primarily selected because they seem most likely to be recognized as things Homer actually saw and represented, rather than merely projections created by my imagination.

Homer was a realist, but he saw more than just objects physically present. He also saw and painted a personal and obtuse phenomenal reality which is the subject of this web site. The written materials on this site provide extensive background details, in order to help place the private side of "The Obtuse Bard" in context. The paper Fully Understood? presents a discussion of evidence indicating that Homer and his friends felt there was much more to his work than was publically known and appreciated. Since Homer may have realized the effect of these images functioned best subliminally, his fellow artists may have felt bound not to specifically discuss this hidden aspect of his work.

With the visual examples, I have taken a search/answer page approach to give the viewer an opportunity to try to "discover" the sample images before being shown. Discovering the images results in a more direct communication with Winslow Homer and is more effective as visual training. Be warned however: there are seemingly endless images to be discovered within Homer's works. Therefore, do not be surprised to find images in addition to the samples. Also, as you look at one image, you may suddenly see an entirely different overlapping, or switching image. Once you start to see these "hidden" images, you will know that your imagination has begun reading the obtuse visual poetry of Winslow Homer.

Thank you for viewing this site.

Peter Bueschen
Simi Valley, California   ************************************************************
 

Click on items in this column
Visual evidence
  • ***NEW (to the web) OCT 2014*** SLIDE PRESENTATION
  • The visual examples used here were not the first images I saw in 1988. These images were selected from hundreds I have seen, because they are the easiest to show others and because they are the most convincing.  I am reminded how I felt when I was first learning to appreciate subtle meanings in poetry.  I thought my teacher had a wonderful imagination, but could not believe he was reading what the poet actually meant to suggest.  Slowly and gradually,  I too became able to at least scratch the surface of great poetry.  Homer's visual poetry is just as rich and subtle. 

    The papers present background information explaining why Homer painted such images, but please note that I have been guided by what I see in Homer's paintings. I began researching and writing only after I was advised that people would view what I saw as my projections, rather than a reading of Homer's projections, unless I could provide a logical explanation why he might have painted such images.  I was astonished when I read Washington Allston, Richard Henry Dana Sr, Benjamin Welles, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Cullen Bryant. 

Written evidence
  • Papers
    • Fully Understood?

    • Written statements by Edwin Austin Abbey and John LaFarge indicate that Homer's work was somehow not fully understood. John Beatty wrote, after a visit with Homer, that Homer felt not understood. Even Homer wrote in a letter to Beatty, "What is the use? The people are too stupid. They do not understand." 
    • Homer's Childhood in Cambridge

    • Winslow Homer grew up in the then small town of Cambridge Massachusetts surrounded by Washington Allston, Richard Henry Dana Sr., Benjamin Welles, William Ellery Channing, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Louis Agassiz and their views. 
    • Poems from Bryant, Longfellow, and Lowell 

    • Poetry that refers to seeing such secondary images. 
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