If you cast your mind’s eye to make a quick review of some of the great paintings of the Western tradition you might find that you are thinking—without realizing it—about paintings that feature light as a subject. Monet’s shimmering water-lilies floating in dappled sunshine, or the gleam of the pearl from a young girl’s earring in the famous painting by Vermeer…color, character, form—all important, but elevated and made memorable by the treatment of light. Even the most famous painting of all, the Mona Lisaby Da Vinci, is a classic portrait, made distinctive and mysterious by the soft, glowing light that plays across the enigmatic features.
Artists know that creating the illusion of light is the essence of representational painting—viewers may not know it, but are surely responding to it as they take in the imagery created by the artist. Light gives life to the illusory creation of the painter. The way shadows fall on a form, and the way a highlight rests on the most prominent part of a form are the most elemental way for an artist to give a three-dimensional illusion to the objects drawn or painted. However, beyond this elemental function light creates mood. Light ismood.
We have strong emotional responses to light. The dazzling reflections of a sunny day create a feeling and a memory that is completely different to the somber light cast through a stormy sky, or the whispering intimacy of a glowing candle—picture the same object seen by each of those different light sources—the same face, the same vase, the same flower, and each would be an entirely new rendition, evoking an entirely different mood.
Light is energy in its purest form. It is a vibration. The quiet glowing still-life paintings created by Tom Betts are an example of the power of light to create a moment of stillness, peace, and meditation.