Dose of Art #42: William Blake – Newton (1795)

You would think a monotype depicting Newton and made at the end of the Enlightenment is a celebration of scientific progress. But it is not. William Blake saw Newton as one member of the infernal trinity, the materialist philosopher John Locke, and father of Empiricism being the other two. He especially disliked Newton’s theory on optics which left no room for Blake’s ideas on the subject of vision, as Blake (also a poet) explained himself:

“Now I fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep”

This is not the place nor the time to discuss Blake’s idea of fourfold vision but its essence is that there is more to vision than just the optics of the human eye.

Although Blake famously wrote “Art is the Tree of Life. Science is the Tree of Death.” the monotype doesn’t seem to show his disapproval. But perhaps we need to use another type of vision than just our eyes to see it.