Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

"How Can We Be Composed?: Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow
By Nancy Huntting

Part 2: Near and Far

One of the reasons I care for this painting so much is the way it puts together near and far. Mr. Siegel writes about Hunters in the Snow in Art As Composition, "the immediate in the picture mingles with a various middle ground, and a spacious, rising, misty background." 

I had an awful time with nearness and distance. I could be maddeningly calm because, in fact, I was absent. As I was growing up I was known for my ability to tune out what was around me—I would, for instance, read books in the late afternoon about the Black Stallion, who was on a remote, imaginary island, and when my mother called me, I conveniently wouldn't hear. When people spoke to me I'd often take a long time responding.  I used what was near to me against knowing a larger world, and used the fact that I could get away in my mind against what was happening close to me. I learned from Aesthetic Realism that these ways, which I treasured, were contempt for the world, which was the cause of my feeling I was empty, a shadow, dull.

"Art wants to see the distant in the near," Mr. Siegel said in a lecture about art and the family.  I studied Hunters in the Snow to see how Bruegel does this.  I discovered that the most distant thing in the painting—the highest mountain crag, with its triangular shape, is repeated again and again! We can find that triangle in the flying bird's wing, the steeples of the churches, the steep roofs of the houses, and most surprising of all, I realized that the whole foreground shape made by the diagonal of the hill and the house nearest to us is almost exactly the same as that crag! 

And a colleague pointed out to me another great thing Bruegel has done: the crag is really more open and shown to us than those three hunters whose faces we cannot see.  The largest, most visible human beings in the painting are also among the darkest, most unknown things. And they are each carrying a spear at the same sharp diagonal as that distant crag. The distant is in the near.

One of  the large things that has made for greater composure in my life is learning to see how the people near to me have the structure of the whole world in them—opposites,  such as near and far. They have thoughts, for instance, which  I don't know, that can be about anything in the world. I have a greater desire to know the world far and near. A wife can ask: What can I learn about my husband from this article in the newspaper? A son or daughter can ask: Are my mother's ups and downs like my own?  And are we both related to the Adirondacks? 

 Continued, Part 3: Smoothness and Sharpness, Indolence and Wrath

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