Friday, April 02, 2010


The most important tenet of Blake's theory of art was the idea that the outline or lineament was necessary to produce a good work of art. He found fault with artists who did not use the technique of outlining the body in their images of human beings. Those familiar with other great artists may find this dictum strange. But Blake had his reason, as usual, related to his ideas of the spiritual being primary, the material secondary.

>From the definition of lineament in Webster's 1913 volume, we learn that lineament is:
"One of the outlines, exterior features, or distinctive marks, of a body or figure, particularly of the face; feature; form; mark;"

>WordNet suggests that lineament is "a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something."

>From a current usage of lineament in geology we learn that "A lineament is a linear feature in a landscape which is an expression of an underlying geological structure such as a fault."

Illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy 

Dante, Virgil, Simoniac Pope 

From Blake's usage it seems he was applying all of these understandings of the word. The outline presented the distinctive features of the object, but not just in an exterior sense. The very individual nature of the thing was inherent in the lineaments. The underlying structure became visible through the outline. Now we see why there is a spiritual dimension to portraying faces, insects, trees, serpents or bodies as outlined; to assist us in seeing not 'with but through the eye.'

Blake on outline and lineament:
Annotations to Reynolds, p 178, (E 657)
"What does Precision of Pencil mean? If it does not mean Outline it means Nothing"

A Descriptive Catalogue of Blake's Exhibition, Number XV, (E 549)
"When Mr. B. formerly painted in oil colours his Pictures were shewn to certain painters and connoisseurs, who said that they were very admirable Drawings on canvass; but not Pictures: but they said the same of Rafael's Pictures. [P 63] Mr. B. thought this the greatest of compliments, though it was meant otherwise. If losing and obliterating the outline constitutes a Picture, Mr. B. will never be so foolish as to do one. Such art of losing the outlines is the art of Venice and Flanders; it loses all character, and leaves what some people call, expression: but this is a false notion of expression; expression cannot exist without character as its stamina; and neither character nor expression can exist without firm and determinate outline."

A Descriptive Catalogue of Blake's Exhibition, Number XV, (E 550)
"How do we distinguish the oak from the beech, the horse from the ox, but by the bounding outline? How do we distinguish one face or countenance from another, but by the bounding line and its infinite inflexions and movements? What is it that builds a house and plants a garden, but the definite and determinate? What is it that distinguishes honesty from knavery, but the hard and wirey line of rectitude and certainty [P 65] in the actions and intentions. Leave out this l[i]ne and you leave out life itself; all is chaos again, and the line of the almighty must be drawn out upon it before man or beast can exist."

Jerusalem, Plate 73, (E 229)
"The Sons of Albion are Twelve: the Sons of Jerusalem Sixteen
I tell how Albions Sons by Harmonies of Concords & Discords
Opposed to Melody, and by Lights & Shades, opposed to Outline
And by Abstraction opposed to the Visions of Imagination"

Milton, PLATE 21 [23], (E 115)
"But I knew not that it was Milton, for man cannot know
What passes in his members till periods of Space & Time
Reveal the secrets of Eternity: for more extensive
Than any other earthly things, are Mans earthly lineaments."

Milton, Plate 32, (E 132)
"Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore
What is Eternal & what Changeable? & what Annihilable!"

Modern science tells us that the brain has structures activated very early in life which give us the ability to recognize faces. This ability could be related to the ability to discern lineament as characteristic of underlying identity or spiritual nature.

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