A new perspective on depth perspective

Having attended art school (the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan) I was obligated to take an art history class. What stood out to me in this class was that from early cave art to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and indigenous petroglyphs (art on stone formations) to early western oil paintings, a major shift in consciousness took place when artists put depth perspective into their creative expressions.

It was as though at some moment, during medieval times, artists had the epiphany that the world we always observed had now had a foreground and a background! This new 3-D mindset was called “depth perspective” whereby artists began to depict far away objects in their paintings as smaller, and closer objects as larger.

I was led to believe from this “major” development that human perception had made a transformative leap in consciousness.

Years later, I was introduced to the ideas of scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. He put forth a whole different idea about depth perspective called correspondences. His writings provided lots of evidence that all the things visually displayed before us in the natural world were mirror images of psycho-spiritual qualities.

Because all objects in nature inherently contained symbolic and abstract expression, this form of depth perception did not depend on reproducing proper 3-D spacetime relationships. An artist who had a working knowledge of this symbolic language could project deeper levels of meaning regardless of spacetime inexactitudes.

Swedenborg made several other astonishing claims. He stated that Holy Scripture contained this same principle of depth perception within the literal words of its sacred stories! He also stated that in more ancient societies this symbolic knowledge was universally known, but forgotten over time. Remnants of this knowledge were to be found in Egyptian and Babylonian hieroglyphics and hidden within the fantastic stories portrayed in ancient mythology and legends.

But to me, his most astonishing claim was that if one possessed a working knowledge of this rarefied language one could tease out of nature a new scientific paradigm addressing causal process, the ultimate unity of forces and law, and, the layered structure of the universe—in a way that transcends classical, material science.

My new book Proving God explores these unique ideas and attempts to put them within a scientifically plausible theory—a model of reality with explanatory and predictive powers.



About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at http://www.staircasepress.com
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2 Responses to A new perspective on depth perspective

  1. Glenn says:


    While vacationing in heaven recently, that is, while procuring (quite legally, of course) some peace of mind in Maui, I had the opportunity to read Noah Charney’s 2007 debut novel The Art Thief. It took all of approximately 3.29 seconds to decide to purchase this book when I first saw it, and I wonder if this below-average selection time indicates that I am above-average when it comes to identifying good books. (Based on other recent selections of mine, I’d have to say, “Nope.”) Anyway, forgoing any and all claims regarding their depth, here are some lengthy yet breezily rousing perspectives from Mr. Charney’s delightful novel:

    [Professor Simon] Barrow had turned many enrolled in the university’s Survey of Western Art History course into art history lovers and majors, but it was early days in the semester, and affections had yet to be consummated. It was the flirtation period.

    “Ladies and gentleman, I am taking you on the Barrow high-speed tour of the greatest hits of the National Gallery. Please show requisite awe, veneration, and subsequent enlightenment…

    “Before I launch into the talk that will change your meager lives, and for the better, I might add, let me set the scene. With your music, television and action films…and digital cameras, it is impossible for any of you to imagine what life was like before the printing press. But try, for God’s sake.

    “Imagine that you have never seen an image before. I know that’s difficult to conceive, but most medieval Europeans, without the large quantities of money required to commission art for themselves, would never have beheld an image. Without printing, every image must be handmade. Materials are very expensive, so the only art that exists is made on commission. Mirrors and glass are also very expensive. It is entirely possible that the only image that you’ve ever seen as a medieval peasant was your own reflection in water.

    “Imagine, then, that when you come to church, you are confronted with this!” He gestured toward the magnificent altarpiece, so large, and beaming with gold. “The figures painted here may look two-dimensional to you, you dismal sheep, but imagine how realistic they would seem if you have never seen an image before. The awe that this must have provoked, the admiration for God and the Church, is astounding. So peel away your jaded egos, and bathe in this!…

    “This altarpiece is iconographically exemplary. For those of you looking confused and drug-addicted [i.e., hypnotized], the word ikon is Greek, and means ‘image’. ‘Iconography’…is the study of symbolic images within art. There has always been a formulaic way to present the most common images in the Bible, and this is a painting of the Heavenly Choir.

    “In early paintings, the most important figures were made larger than the rest…

    “…Neo-Platonism. That’s a reference to Plato. And this philosophy was hugely popular with artists of the Renaissance…

    “Dear God, where was I? Oh yes, Neo-Platonism. You’ll have to forgive me my children. My train of thought is still boarding at the station. Briefly, Neo-Platonism suggests that art was the closet approximation to the perfection that must exist in Heaven, and that artists were therefore the conduit of a reflection, a shadow of the divine on earth…

    “Disguised symbolism allows paintings to be read, like books, but first you must understand the code. Every painting in every museum in the world is in code. It is a riddle waiting to be unlocked. Some are more complicated than others. Paintings of the Northern Renaissance are the deepest encoded. They require specialized knowledge equating objects with ideas, and identifying saints with implements and stories. Some, like the beloved Impressionists, require almost no specialized knowledge to appreciate. They are merely objects of beauty. Others, like the Abstract Expressionists, require nothing. They are simply projections and provocations of emotion. But learn to read art, and it’s like learning a new language spoken across the Western world. A dog may mean loyalty, but that is not self-evident. It is a specialized piece of knowledge. A guy with arrows in him is Saint Sebastian, so what does that imply? An old man with a beard and wings and an hourglass is Time. Personifications take the gender of the word they represent. ‘Time’, tempus, is masculine, so the personification of Time is as a man.

    “There are stranger examples. A parrot refers to an odd explanation of how Mary can be pregnant and still be a virgin. The rationale, if you can call it that, of some medieval priest. If a parrot can be taught to say ‘Ave Maria’, then Mary can be a pregnant virgin. And people seriously believed this, folks, just like you believe that smoking doobies and listening to Pink Floyd is the zenith of your vapid existence…”

    [“Pardon me while I interrupt myself, if I don’t mind, which I’m quite sure I do not. An article on confounding contradictions, aka disguised symbolism, in the Bible is available here. I am not a member of any ‘Swedenborgian’ church. But this does not prevent me from noticing how well-written and thought-provoking is the article. And if reading while listening to Pink Floyd, or whomever, is not beyond your multi-tasking capabilities, you still as yet ungrateful ones may also find your attention piqued. Ah, my train of thought is leaving the station–time to hop back on!”]

    “To the next room, you children of the corn! Come on now. There will be plenty of time to download illegal music later on…

    “Fifteen thirty-four [i.e., 1534]. This is The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein. Had any of you goobers done the reading, you would have known that…

    “Paintings hold secrets. Why do we study art? Or rather, I should ask, why do I talk art at you, under the dismaying misapprehension that anything I say is absorbed! Because I firmly believe that universal truths about the human condition are embedded into great works of art. Whether or not the artists is aware, these are painted passions. History, political, social, artistic, literary, religious, philosophical, psychological, emotional…it’s all there… The secrets are caught like beasts in a tar pit, struggling to get out, leaning out to you, the viewers, the students, like buried treasure with the glint of gold just beckoning below the surface. So, you turkeys, take the hand that reaches out to you!”

    A voice from the crowd of students called out. “We are listening! Start teaching us something already!”

    “Right. Holbein was the court painter to King Henry VIII of England, the fat one with all the wives. Know why he was a fatty? He had a horrible skin disease the name of which I can’t recall, that resulted in nasty scabby things on his legs that made it painful for him to walk. So he had to be carried about, and this lack of exercise caused him to, shall we say, aggrandize. But that’s as may be. Holbein was Flemish, as you’ll recall, if I’m exceedingly lucky, from past classes on Northern Renaissance painting, so this style should not be unfamiliar. Remember [Jan] van Eyk? Well, this painting, too, is full of disguised symbolism!…

    “This painting was commissioned by the two gentleman portrayed on either side of this two-tiered table full of strange instruments and implements. The fellow on the left was the French political ambassador and this gentleman on the right was the French religious ambassador, close friends representing France at Henry’s court in England. This is, at first glance, a double-portrait to commemorate a friendship. But there is much more that is hidden. Look deeper.

    “The table at the center of the painting has two tiers. The top tier contains instruments for measuring the heavens: an astrolabe, celestial globe, telescope, and so on. The lower tier contains terrestrial instruments, both of music and of measurement. A terrestrial globe, a piece of music, and what is this bulbous instrument? Yes, Cathal, thank your for your contribution. It is, indeed, a lute. So, the painting is divided into celestial and terrestrial, Heaven and Earth. But that’s not the true subject of the painting. That’s merely the means of conveyance. Come up close to the painting, and look at the strings of the lute. See? One of the strings is broken. If you played this lute, it would sound off, discordant. Therefore, there is discord on the terrestrial realm. See where I’m going?”

    A shout came from the crowd. “No.”

    “Right, well, shut up then. Discord on Earth, peace in the Heavens. We need another clue, maybe. Here it is. This piece of music displayed has been identified as a composition by Martin Luther. Urska, would you care to guess at the subject of this painting, based on the aforementioned clues?”

    Urska stared at the painting…

    Urska spoke. “Didn’t Henry VIII break from the Catholic church and start the Church of England, or something? So, like, maybe because Luther was breaking from the Catholic church, too, around the same time, then the painting is about discord on Earth, over little details about Christianity, but in the Heavens everything is still okay? The problem is the interpretation of Christianity on Earth.”

    Barrow smiled. “You’re, like, absolutely right. Well done! You get a cookie. That is exactly the subject of this painting…”

    More than 200 years subsequent to the completion of Holbein’s painting, Mr. Swedenborg wrote the following:

    o In the Christian world it is doctrinal matters that distinguish churches; and from them men call themselves Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists, or the Reformed and the Evangelical, and by other names. It is from what is doctrinal alone that they are so called; which would never be if they would make love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor the principal of faith. Doctrinal matters would then be only varieties of opinion concerning the mysteries of faith, which truly Christian men would leave to everyone to hold in accordance with his conscience, and would say in their hearts that a person is truly a Christian when he lives as a Christian, that is, as the Lord teaches. AC 1799.4

    o [Doctrinal things] are not true because the heads of the church have said so and their followers confirm it, because in this way the doctrinal things of all churches and religions would have to be called true, merely because they exist in the country, and men hold them from their birth; and in this wise not only would the doctrinal things of Papists and also of Quakers be true, but also those of Jews and even of Mohammedans, because their leaders have said so and their followers confirm it. This shows that the Word must be searched, and there it must be seen whether the doctrinal things are true. When this is done from the affection of truth, then the man is enlightened by the Lord so as to perceive, without knowing whence, what is true; and he is confirmed therein in accordance with the good in which he is. If these truths disagree with the doctrinal things, let him take heed not to disturb the church. AC 6047.2

    o If anyone tells them that they ought to stay in the doctrinal things of the church in which they were born, they reflect that if they had been born in Judaism, Socinianism, Quakerism, Christian Gentilism, or even out of the church, the same would have been told them; and that it is everywhere said, Here is the church! Here is the church! Here are truths and nowhere else! And this being the case the Word should be searched with devout prayer to the Lord for enlightenment. Such do not disturb anyone within the church, nor do they ever condemn others, knowing that everyone who is a church lives from his faith [i.e., everyone who live from his faith is a [church’]. AC 5432.5


  2. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Thank you for sharing this amusing and thought-provoking information with my readers!

    Spiritually yours,

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