Light—Physical, Emotional and Spiritual

Light is the stuff of photography. A photographic image is made of light in its varying intensities. But just as important is light's enormous influence on our physical, emotional, symbolic and visual world. Light's effect is unavoidable and ever present. Light reveals, illumines, enlightens, defines and is associated with wisdom, warmth, nobility, good, God and life. Light's absence can suggest the opposite. And light can overwhelm, wash out, burn up and blow out.  Hence an awareness of the symbolic and visual significance of light in our lives, and in all of art, is central in the development of an artist. An appreciation of the role light plays is fundamental to literacy in any of the visual arts, as well as culture, religion and arts of all kinds. 

Light is the giver of life and our existence. Without light there would be no life on earth. The cycles and rhythms of our day and the seasons revolve around how light influences our world. Farmers, and religions, use these cycles as the basis of their calendars. This fact, observed long ago, has made the giver of light a powerful place in the personal and cultural symbols found in art and our minds.

Light has been a central theme of all the religions. Ideas of Light permeate the stories, myths and archetypes of all cultures throughout time and around the world. "I am the way, the truth, the light" J.C.  . "Go towards the light" has become a cliche used in popular culture. In Hinduism the dark skinned Rakshasas are evil, sinful creatures, much like our satan. Satan is depicted as black and lives in the dark and mirky end of the universe, far away from God the Light. Saturn was at the planet the furthest from the Sun ( at least at the time it was named,) and in astrology represents misery, debauchery and darkness in all its forms.  "What's your sign?" means what sign is your sun in and what qualities does it have. Buddhism speaks of a progression from darkness to light. Judaism has The Eternal Light. Religious artists paint the heavens bright with warm light, filled with angels and beings glowing with light.

Even in our modern, secular, western society, the symbolic power of light, and its soul mate—Darkness, are everywhere present in art of all kinds (fine art and commercial,) from crime shows on TV, to ads on depression, to popular music where the Goths romance the darkness and New Agers extol the light and shun the darkness. TV shows, commercials, movies and print media all have armies of visual artists deploying an ever-expanding array of lighting styles and techniques intent on selling products and producing emotional responses.  Architects strategize around the play of light within and upon their buildings. Restaurants strive for ambiance, cities light up the skyline and town squares revitalize with new lighting. Well-heeled brides pay lots to light their reception halls. Light can make a drab room come alive, give a product or person style, reveal the desirable qualities, while leaving the undesirable in the shadows. Good lighting can made the ordinary magical, or can be used to make its subject undesirable or even evil.

Light evokes emotion and suggests psychological and moral states. Depression is commonly described as dark or black. Seasonal Affective Disorder, S.A.D. is caused by a lack of light. Commercials use bright, sunny days to evoke joy and seek to associate that inherently desirable quality of light with their products. Prisoners are thrown into the dark dungeon or put into cells where the miserable unnatural florescent light is always on. Qualities of light are used in art to help define and convey emotion. Warm light is associated with glowing health, while blue light is melancholy. When the sun comes it brings warmth and growth. When the sun leaves, the world turns brown and drab and the day grows short and cold. Death is cold and dark. Religious artists typically portray God's light as warm yellow—gold. One of Annie Leibovitz's famous photos of the Sopranos depicts the cast in a dark and mirky environment with bodies strewn at their feet like some middle ages painting of hell. The photograph has a blue color cast, in keeping with the common association of cool color with dark themes. The only bright warm light in the photo is between Tony Soprano and his therapist and also his wife, the only links he has to the possibility of finding his light.

The blue light district is is associated with crime, drugs, and other lower impulses of pleasure. TV and movies use the color and intensities of light to foreshadow events and paint their characters as good or bad. When I was a child, the bad guys wore black hats and the good guys wore white. 

Arnold Newman was a famous, Jewish photographer who is largely considered one of the founders of the environmental portrait that is so common now in magazines and commercial and fine art photography. On an assignment to photograph a Nazi industrialist, he very artfully used light to paint his subject as evil.

In photography light is used to reveal, sculpt, define, enhance, emote and please the eye. A good photographer knows how to use light to enhance his visual statement. Light can be an element of a photograph, a supporting factor, or light can be the subject. Light can suggest good or bad, and contribute to beauty or distortion.

Light's influence on our world, both inner and outer, cannot be overstated. Light's symbolic and emotional potential need to be understood and employed in the making of any visual statement. Even if just to please the eye, how the visual artist uses light is necessarily an important component of his style, and often the defining element of his art. To be an artist, one must be a student of light in all its forms, layers and qualities. 

Live in rooms full of light.  ~Cornelius Celsius

There are two kinds of light—the glow that illumines, and the glare that obscures.  ~James Thurber

The sun is nature's Prozac.  ~Astrid Alauda

A sensible man will remember that the eyes may be confused in two ways—by a change from light to darkness or from darkness to light; and he will recognize that the same thing happens to the soul.  ~Plato

Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry, "More light."  Sunlight.  Torchlight.  Candlelight.  Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators.  Big floods for the night games at Soldier's Field.  Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep.  Light is more than watts and foot candles.  Light is metaphor.  Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light.  ~Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider

In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.  ~Aaron Rose

A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you're at home.  ~Author Unknown

Light is good from whatever lamp it shines.  ~Author Unknown

Light can be gentle, dangerous, dreamlike, bare, living, dead, misty, clear, hot, dark, violet, springlike, falling, straight, sensual, limited, poisonous, calm and soft.  ~Sven Nykvist

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.  ~Annie Dillard

Sun spreads through the treetops like an epidemic.  ~Dave Bonta, from The Morning Porch blog at

Light comes to us unexpectedly and obliquely.  Perhaps it amuses the gods to try us.  They want to see whether we are asleep.  ~H.M. Tomlinson

Sunshine is my quest.  ~Winston Churchill

Light, God's eldest daughter...  ~Thomas Fuller

What is true by lamplight is not always true by sunlight.  ~Joseph Joubert

There they stand, the innumerable stars, shining in order like a living hymn, written in light.  ~N.P. Willis

Auld Daddy Darkness...
See him in the corners hidin' frae the licht,
See him at the window gloomin' at the nicht... ~James Ferguson

No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.  ~Terry Pratchett

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.  ~Joseph Campbell

Quotes gotten from http://www.quote