The Ocular Vision and Aesthetic Visions of Peter Milton

Peter Milton, Interiors VII: The Train from Munich (1991), resist-ground etching and engraving, image 51 x 91 cm. Edition of 175. Printed by Robert Townsend, Georgetown, MA. Image courtesy the artist.

Vision is an inherent component of visual art, and a tool for artists as much as pigment, engraving implements or canvas. It serves to recognize a subject, create work with detail or color, refine work in progress and judge a finished product. And much has been written about artists with poor vision, or about aberrations in art that might be interpreted to indicate an eye disease.1 However, neither is terribly illuminating without the medical facts about an artist’s eyes. Judging eye disease from art (i.e., from an artist’s work) is usually in error, since artists have license to choose their subjects and technique for personal reasons. For example, there is every indication that El Greco did not paint elongated figures because of faulty optics.2 On the other hand, when eye disease can be documented, as is the case with the failing vision suffered by the aging Degas and Monet, one can learn much about the art and the motivation of the artist through study of the works done with visual impairment.3

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  1. For example, Michael F. Marmor and James Ravin, The Artist’s Eyes (New York: Abrams, 2009), and Philippe Lanthony, Les Yeux des Peintres (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1999). []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Michael F. Marmor, “Ophthalmology and Art: Simulation of Monet’s Cataracts and Degas’ Retinal Disease,” Arch Ophthalmol. 2006; 124:1765–69. []