Blindness and Wisdom in Art and Literature
People commonly see aging as a decline, a loss of physical strength and mental clarity. Yet in many cultures elders are revered for their wisdom. They are religious leaders, political advisors, and master teachers. Often there is a flowering of late-life creativity:
Writers, artists, composers, and philosophers have done some of their greatest work in their last years. How to explain these divergent views of aging? As some of our faculties grow weaker, others must grow stronger; and as Plato implies, perhaps it is only through the loss of one that we gain the other.
Nothing seems to encapsulate this polarity more powerfully than wisdom born from blindness. In the work of Sophocles and Rembrandt, the characters who are blind or nearly blind are often the wisest. In this course we will explore how the loss of sight can lead to insight by reading Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus and looking carefully at some of Rembrandt's late paintings. Selected poems from the Tao Te Ching and John Milton's 'On His Blindness' to a contemporary work on Monet's fading eyesight will help us explore this difficult and fascinating topic.
Sean Forester is a painter and poet living in Florence, Italy where he is Director of Art History and Humanities at the Florence Academy of Art. He continues to explore the parallels between literature and art.
Sophocles I: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone From The Complete Greek Tragedies, Ed. David Greene and Richmond Lattimore, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0226307921
Michel Bockemuhl, Rembrandt 1606-1669: The Mystery of Revealed Form, Taschen Basic Art Series, ISBN: 3822863203
Selections from Aristotle
Selected Poems (Tao Te Ching, R.M. Rilke, John Milton)
Rembrandt Paintings (and Corresponding Biblical Passages)
Monet (Paintings and Poem)