Rembrandt, Shakespeare, and Spinoza

The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, 1661 by Rembrandt

I was looking at this painting last week. This image is from the following article. Originally this painting was 5 meters (16ft) by 5 meters. Massive. It was scaled down maybe to 5 feet by 5 feet. The painting was rejected by the people who commissioned it.

I have no idea why this painting captures my imagination. The quality of light is exquisite in Rembrandt. Immediately looking at his paintings I thought of computer graphics today and the desire to create ever more ‘realistic’ light. But what is realistic light. Truly this is not realisitic, it is not reaching for verisimilitude, but it is more true than reality. I watch the scene and I feel a light shine within me, the same light that shines within these heroic figures. (The scene is of a rebellion by the Dutch again Roman rule). What is light? Let there be light. The first line of the hebrew bible. It is something noteworthy.

The light of a computer graphics program is created in a different way than Rembrandt’s light. When I write a computer program I have an idea in my head of what I want the light to be and I have a series of calculations – linear algebra, or maybe I will use a machine learning algorithm (also linear algebra). And then there will be a resultant painting and I will say ah yes that works, or no that does not – and I will write the program or execute the ML algorithm again. With painting, the artist is reacting with his body and his senses against every brush stroke. He is seeing the parts as they are coming together and judging them, rather than judging them at the end. If I am running an optimized ML algorithm this runs on a GPU (a graphical processing unit). GPU execute commands in parallel. All the strokes are layed at once, the painter is executing in serial.

I also think about cinematography – that other art form I used to be involved with. Cinematography is referred to painting with light. I actually think that is the name of a book. Here light is the medium not the subject. Can I paint light with light or can I paint scenes with light, what happens when I paint with light. Cinematography and photography (the analog version) is about capturing something with tools and then judging the result – It is perhaps akin to etching. It is an oblique way of creating – it is indirect and subtle – opposed to painting that is direct and immediate.

What is Rembrandt painting? He painted a ton of portraits- I am just going to note #selfie. He also painted a bunch of philosophers in meditation. I meditate a ton. That is how I spend a lot of time these days… in meditation. That is also what I love to do most of all these days (now I feel like a bad mother because I should say something like playing with my children).

You know who else was in Amsterdam when Rembrandt was painting? Spinoza, the philosopher, also the glass grinder. Spinoza was also playing with optics although from a different perspective. Spinoza was a philosopher in meditation.

You know who was across the water from Rembrandt – Shakespeare (a bit earlier). When I look at this scene above I imagine a shakespearean drama. Shakespeare is the writer who many think invented or described the modern human with all her psychological complexity and character. Rembrandt is perhaps painting the modern human full of emotion and affect and inner light.