caspar david friedrich and the sublime


If the picture grips you, it may be because on some level you have a yearning for this chill. Although a substitute hike is not quite what the composition provides – for it offers no point at which to enter the path that rises up leftwards – you might walk the mountains with much of this agenda at heart: to be sent endlessly out of yourself, endlessly upwards, to jettison the homely and the social and submit to the cold vastness of space, as if with nothing human to fall back on. The picture’s remit, therefore, is not so much topographical as poetic. You register that it has been conceived in strong emotion – in a longing, in fact, to transcend emotion – and in that light, the most quoted of all Friedrich’s remarks on his art may start to make sense. “Close your physical eye, so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring what you saw in the dark to the light, so that it may have an effect on others, shining inwards from outside.” To which the artist added: “A picture must not be invented, it must be felt”.

more from Julian Bell at the TLS here.