Lighting Quotations

quotations about light, darkness, art, vision, perception, and sight


And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
John 1:5


Light is not so much something that reveals, as it is itself the revelation.
James Turrell


Keep this point clear: Central to discovering an experience's perceptual meaning is a recognition of its identity and of its individuality.
Edmund Blair Bolles, A Second Way of Knowing



For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life - the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.
Claude Monet


We eat light, drink it in through our skins. With a little more exposure to light, you feel part of things physically. I like feeling the power of light and space physically because then you can order it materially. Seeing is a very sensuous act--there's a sweet deliciousness to feeling yourself see something.
James Turrell Limn (#4)


Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch you add in other places.


The finest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.
Albert Einstein


We grow accustomed to the dark-- 
When Light is put away-- 
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp 
To witness her Good-bye--... 
Either the Darkness alters-- 
Or something in the sight 
Adjusts itself to Midnight-- 
And Life steps almost straight.
Emily Dickinson


The principal person in a picture is light.
Edouard Manet


[Art] first of all is optical. That's where the material of our art is: in what our eyes think.
Paul Cézanne



Information is light. Information in itself, about anything, is light.
Tom Stoppard


Oh painter! You cannot be a good one if you are not the universal master of representing by your art every kind of form produced by nature. And this you will not know how to do if you do not see them, and retain them in your being. Hence as you go through the fields, turn your attention to the various objects, and, in turn, look now at this thing and now that, collecting a store of diverse facts selected and chosen from those of less value. But do not do like some painters who, when  they are wearied with exciting their fancy dismiss their work from their thoughts and take exercise in walking for relaxation, but still keep fatigue in their mind which, though they see various objects around them, do not apprehend them; but, even when they meet friends or relations and are saluted by them, take no more cognizance of them than if they had met so much empty air.  

Any master who should venture to boast that he could remember all the forms and effects of nature would certainly appear to me to be graced with extreme ignorance, inasmuch as these effects are infinite and our memory is not extensive enough to retain them. 

Thus I say to you whom nature prompts to pursue this art, if you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects begin with the details of them, and do not go on to the next step till you have the first well fixed in memory and in practice. And if you do otherwise you will throw away your time, or certainly greatly prolong your studies. And remember to acquire diligence rather than rapidity. 

Da Vinci,  
On Being an Artist


O darkness, the sky is a gloomy precinct 
Whose door you close, and whose key the soul owns; 
And night divides itself in half, being diabolical and holy, 
Between Ilis, the black angel, and Christ, the starry Human Being.
Victor Hugo


I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.
Tennessee Williams,  Blanche DuBois,  A Streetcar Named Desire, sc. 3 



Science is spectral analysis. Art is light synthesis.
Karl Kraus, Pro Domo et Mundo  


'Yes,' I answered her last night; 
'No,' this morning, sir I say, 
Colours seen by candle-light 
Will not look the same by day.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


...yet there is a difference between scientific and artistic observation. The scientist observes to turn away and generalize; the artist observes to seize and use reality in all its individuality and peculiarity.
Edmund Blair Bolles, A Second Way of Knowing

Light always follows the path of the beautiful.


One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. 
Freiedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra


There's a certain Slant of light, 
Winter Afternoons-- 
That oppresses, like the Heft 
Of Cathedral Tunes-- 
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us-- 
We can find no scar, 
But internal difference, 
Where the Meanings, are.
Emily Dickinson


The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. . . . I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.
Eugène Ionesco, Present Past—Past Present


Light black. From pole to pole.

Samuel Beckett,  Endgame 




Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet’s job. The rest is literature.
Jean Cocteau , Le Rappel à l’Ordre, "Le Secret Professionnel" 


Yet mystery and imagination arise from the same source. 
This source is called darkness. . . . 
Darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding.

And he was transfigured before them,
and his face shone like the sun,
and his garments became
white as light.
(Matthew 17:2)

At first, it appears that nothing could be easier than seeing. We just point our eyes where we want to go, and gather in whatever there is to see. Nothing could be less in need of explanation. The world is flooded with light, and everything is available to be seen. We can see people, pictures, landscapes, and whatever else we need to see, and with the help of science we can see galaxies, viruses, and the insides of our own bodies. Seeing does not interfere with the world or take anything from it, and it does not hurt or damage anything. Seeing is detached and efficient and rational. Unlike the stomach or the heart, eyes are our own to command: they obey every desire and thought. 

Each one of those ideas is completely wrong. The truth is more difficult: seeing is irrational, inconsistent, and undependable. It is immensely troubled, cousin to blindness and sexuality, and caught up in the threads of the unconscious. Our eyes are not ours to command; they roam where they will and then tell us they have only been where we have sent them. No matter how hard we look, we see very little of what we look at. If we imagine the eyes as navigational devices, we do so in order not to come to terms with what seeing really is. Seeing is like hunting and like dreaming, and even like falling in love. It is entangled in passions--jealousy, violence, possessiveness; and it is soaked in an affect--in pleasure and displeasure, and in pain. Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis not mechanism. 

James Elkins, The Object Stares Back


Vision, I say, is related to light itself. But of this sensation and the things pertaining to it I pretend to understand but little, and since even a long time would not suffice to explain that trifle, or even to hint at an explanation, I pass over this in silence. 
Galileo Galilei, The Assayer


Light, God’s eldest daughter, is a principal beauty in a building. 
Thomas Fuller , The Holy State and the Profane State


Since all perception in the Brain is made 
(Tho' where and how was never yet display'd) 
And since so great a distance lies between 
The Eye-ball and the Seat of Sense within, 
While in the Eye th'arrested Object stays 
Tell, what th'Idea to the Brain Conveys?
Blackmore, Creation



How do we see physically? No differently than we do in our consciousness--by means of the productive power of imagination. Consciousness is the eye and ear, the sense for inner and outer meaning.

We have the eye, which of the five senses is the closest to the brain, or rather is the sensory channel through which the brain itself directly perceives the external world. Light is indispensable for the proper functioning of the eye. Our visual power (function) to discern objects is more easily frustrated by manipulating light than by directly blocking the direction of our gaze, as is illustrated by the dark changes of scene in a theater. This also means that our discernible world varies with the quantity of light. Often we feel peaceful when we settle into an indirectly illuminated space or dim corner. As we know, in such a relative darkness, not so deep as to risk our safety, we feel more reassured than scared, and the faintness of light calms and relaxes us.
James Turrell

Just think of the illimitable abundance and the marvelous loveliness of light, or of the beauty of the sun and moon and stars.
St. Augustine, City of God

We see light, not dark. But it is in the dark that we feel goblins and ghosts.
Rex Brandt

I don't want pictures. I just want to find things out.
Piet Mondrian

The rainbow mirrors human aims and action.
Think, and more clearly wilt thou grasp it, seeing
Life is but light in many-hued reflection.


There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.


The sun rose on the flawless brimming sea into a sky all brazen--all one brightening for gods immortal and for mortal men on plowlands kind with grain.
Homer, The Odyssey

No corporeal substance can be so subtle and swift as this.
William of Conches, 12th century


POZZO: (stage directions removed)
Ah yes! The night. But be a little more attentive, for pity's sake, otherwise we'll never get anywhere. Look! Will you look at the sky, pig! Good, that's enough. What is there so extraordinary about it? Qua sky. It is pale and luminous like any sky at this hour of the day. In these latitudes. When the weather is fine. An hour ago roughly after having poured forth even since say ten o'clock in the morning tirelessly torrents of red and white light it begins to lose its effulgence, to grow pale, pale, ever a little paler, a little paler until pppfff! finished! it comes to rest. But– but behind this veil of gentleness and peace, night is charging and will burst upon us pop! like that! Just when we least expect it. That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.
Samuel Beckett,  Waiting for Godot








The theater, which is in no thing, but makes use of everything—gestures, sounds, words, screams, light, darkness—rediscovers itself at precisely the point where the mind requires a language to express its manifestations. . . . To break through language in order to touch life is to create or recreate the theatre.
Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double


Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas


Every decided colour does a certain violence to the eye, and forces the organ to opposition.
Goethe, Theory of Colours


To gaze is to think.
Salvadore Dali


Work a great deal with evening effects, a lamp, a candle, etc. The tantalizing thing is not always to who the source of light, but the effect of light.
Edward Degas


The film of evening light made the red earth lucent, so that its dimensions were deepened, so that a stone, a post, a building, had greater depth, and more solidity than in any daytime light; and these objects were curiously more individual- a post was more essentially a post, set off from the earth it stood in and the field of corn it stood out against. All plants were individuals, not the mass of crop; and the ragged willow tree was itself, standing free of all other willow trees. The earth contributed a light to the evening. The front of the gray, paintless house, facing the west, was luminous as the moon is. The gray dusty truck, in the yard before the door, stood out magically in this light, in the overdrawn perspective of a stereopticon. 
Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath


I saw a point that shone with light so keen, 
the eye that sees it cannot bear its blazing; 
the star that is for us the smallest one 
would seem a moon if placed beside this point.
Dante, Paradiso Book XXVIII


We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.
Henry James , The Complete Tales of Henry James


The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden 


The chief aim of colour should be to serve expression as well as possible.


Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.
William Wordsworth



Light and the rational forms are locked in combat; light sets them into motion, bends what is straight, makes parallels oval, inscribes circles in the intervals, makes the intervals active.
Paul Klee



…How do ideas come? What a question! If they come of their own accord, they are apt to arrive at the most unexpected time and place. For the most part the place is out of doors, for up in this northern wilderness when nature puts on a show it is an inspiring one. There seem to be magic days once in a while, with some rare quality of light that hold a body spellbound: In sub-zero weather there will be a burst of unbelievable color when the mountain turns a deep purple, a thing it refuses to do in summer. Then comes the hard part: how to plan a picture so as to give to others what has happened to you. To render in paint an experience, to suggest the sense of light and color, air and space, there is no such thing as sitting down outside and trying to make a “portrait” of it. It lasts for only a minute, for one thing, and it isn’t an inspiration that can be copied on the spot….
Maxfield Parrish, Letter to F.W Weber, 1950, Published in New York—Pennsylvania Collector, August 8, 1991 (Gilbert, 235)



Full many a glorious morn I have seen 
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, 
Kissing with golden face the meadows green, 
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy...
Shakespeare, Sonnet XXXIII

Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
The gentle soft-born measureless light,
The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill'd noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


The diff'rence is as great between 
The optics seeing, as the objects seen. 
All Manners take a tincture from our own; 
Or come discolour'd through our Passions shown. 
Or Fancy's beam enlarges, multiplies 
Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes.
Pope, Moral Essays


Darkness is to space what silence is to sound, i.e., the interval.
Marshall McLuhan , Through the Vanishing Point


...he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned toward more real existence, he has a clearer vision... 

... in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual...
Plato's Republic Book VII "The Cave Allegory"


A given visual phenomenon may not be perceived at all unless it is actively looked for.
Burnham, Hanes, and Bartleson, Color


There was a young lady named Bright 
Whose speed was much faster than light. 
She went out one day 
In a relative way 
And came back the previous night.
Arthur Buller


The wide wonder of Broadway is disconsolate in the daytime; but gaudily glorious at night, with a milling crowd filling sidewalk and roadway, silent, going up, going down, between upstanding banks of brilliant lights, each building braided and embossed with glowing, many-coloured bulbs of man-rayed luminance. A glowing valley of the shadow of life. The strolling crowd went slowly by through the kinematically divine thoroughfare of New York.
Sean O’Casey, Rose and Crown 

Were the eye not of the sun,
How could we behold the light?
If God's might and ours were not as one,
How could His work enchant our sight?

Light is a powerful substance. We have a primal connection to it. But, for something so powerful, situations for its felt presence are fragile ... I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space... I wanted to employ sunlight, moonlight and starlight to empower a work of art
James Turrell

I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time.
Emily Dickinson


There is a place where time stands still. 
...illuminated by only the most feeble red light, for light is diminished to almost nothing at the center of time, its vibrations slowed to echoes in vast canyons, its intensity reduced to the faint glow of fireflies. 
Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams


When I enter most intimately into what I call myself I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. 
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature


My choice of colours does not rest on any scientific theory; it is based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience.


My candle burns at both ends; 
It will not last the night; 
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— 
It gives a lovely light!
Edna St. Vincent Millay, First


Do not all charms fly 
At the mere touch of cold philosophy? 
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven: 
We know her woof, her texture: she is given 
In the dull catalogue of common things. 
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings, 
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, 
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine - 
Unweave a rainbow.
Keats, Lamia, II, 229

The sky is no longer out there, but it is right on the edge of the space you are in. The sense of colour is generated inside you. If you then go outside you will see a different coloured sky. You colour the sky.
James Turrell Toward Unknown Light

There is no more worthy, more glorious or more potent work, than to work with light.
Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov


When Earth's last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
'Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They'll sit in a golden chair
They'll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet's hair
They'll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They'll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!
Rudyard Kipling


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