David Bohm and Rouault’s clown

Appreciation of contemporary art doesn’t always come easily.  We “know what we like” and often resist the unfamiliar.  It has always been thus – to the educated eyes of French art connoisseurs in the 1860s the new paintings of the Impressionists were ugly beyond belief.  Yet a mix of curiosity and patience, coupled with a willingness to suspend our preferences, inevitably causes a shift in perception.  Physicist David Bohm was a man with a seriously scientific mind; he was tirelessly curious about the dynamics of creativity and thinking.

In the remarkable collection of letters exchanged between Bohm and artist Charles Biederman,  The Bohm–Biederman Correspondence,  Bohm describes an encounter with one of Rouault’s paintings of a clown.  It’s a fascinating and delightfully honest account of the way the painting literally rearranges his perception, revealing a two-way energetic “flow” between the painting and himself.  He begins by confessing that he found Rouault’s paintings difficult to like, but that a deeper engagement caused his perception to “give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.”


Georges Rouault - Clown, ca 1937

Georges Rouault, Clown ca 1937


I should perhaps [mention] here that my first reactions to modern art were almost entirely negative.  However, in some respects, I have changed my mind.

For example, with regard to Rouault, I first felt that his pictures were very discouraging and depressing.  Gradually, I began to see them in a new light.  In particular, last year in London, I saw a picture of his, The Old Clown …

At first, it seemed to be rather a mixed up set of patches of colour.  But gradually, it began to take shape. In particular two patches struck my eye, one in the face of the clown and another outside him, which seemed to complement the first.  My eye began to move back and forth from one patch to the other, a pulsation was established, and suddenly it ceased, to give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.  It was not so much that the clown became visible in three dimensions, this was true but only a minor point.

The major point is that there seemed to be a flow or a current in which the whole being of the clown poured outward to reveal itself, all his feelings, thoughts and emotions etc., and a counter-flow in which the outside (including the viewer) was drawn into him, to emerge again in the outward flow.  It was a very striking experience for me, one that I shall always remember.  Whether the artist intended the picture to be seen in this way, I don’t know of course, I would be interested in knowing whether it struck anyone else in this way.

David Bohm
Bohm–Biederman Correspondence, Vol 1: Creativity and Science
Edited by Paavo Pylkkanen

Charles Biederman

Also see:  scientist meets philosopher (David Bohm in dialogue with J Krishnamurti)

David Bohm, Paul Cezanne and Creativity – F David Peat, a close collaborator and friend of David Bohm, shares insights into Bohm’s creative ideas and process.


the process of perception is one of creation

Perception underpins all human behavior and helps interpret sensory information to make sense from the senseless. The brain, to create meaning where there is possibly none, processes perception from the unperceived and thought from the unthinkable. The process of perception is in fact one of creation. What we perceive is not what is out there or within. There is no inherent value in the incredibly complex patterns of light that fall onto our eyes, and yet we see coherent forms and motions that enable us to survive. Exploring the nature of perception can help us glimpse life beyond experiencer and experience, perceiver and perception.

Science and Nonduality website

This year’s Science and Nonduality Europe Conference is only 5 weeks away.
Hop over to the website and register now!


SAND13 EU – “The Science and Mystery of Perception”
Doorn, May 28th to June 3rd 2013.

Instead of saying, ‘An observer looks at an object’, we can more appropriately say, ‘Observation is going on, in an undivided movement involving those abstractions customarily called “the human being” and “the object he is looking at”.
David Bohm

The observer is the observed.
J Krishnamurti

There is no separate, inside self and no separate outside object, other or world. Rather, there is one seamless, intimate totality, always changing when viewed from the perspective of objects, never changing when viewed from the perspective of the totality.
Rupert Spira