Reading ‘Cezanne’s Doubt’ by Merleau-Ponty

I looked at this essay for my art theory and was struck with how ideas about Cezanne’s painting process struck a cord with my own painting practice. I decided to read the essay fully and consider it in relation to my work.

Cezanne was abandoning himself to chaos of sensation… for example, the illusion we have when we move our heads that objects themselves are moving—if our judgment did not constantly set these appearances straight.


‘Chaos of sensation’ – reminds me of my paintings, the colours and layers of brushstroke are chaotic, but they are based on the experience of being in the landscape, so ‘sensation’ feels like a fitting word.

Cezanne was always seeking to avoid the ready-made alternatives suggested to him: sensation versus judgment.


‘Sensation versus judgement’ – this certainly reminds me of my process when painting outside. I am marrying judgement of the depth, shapes, sizes, colours of the landscape with my sensations of movement around me, weather, comfort, energy of the space.

“But aren’t nature and art different?” I [Cezanne] want to make them the same. Art is a personal apperception, which I embody in sensations and which I ask the understanding to organise into a painting.


Cezanne did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, as if he were deciding between chaos and order. He did not want to separate the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear. He wanted to depict matter as it takes on form, the birth of order through spontaneous organisation.


Yep I think this nicely aligns with my intentions! I have just never expressed it in this way, but it makes a lot of sense.

Cezanne wanted to paint this primordial world, and his pictures therefore seem to show nature pure, while photographs of the same landscapes suggest man’s works, conveniences, and imminent presence… He wanted to put intelligence, ideas, sciences, perspective, and tradition back in touch with the world of nature which they were intended to comprehend.


I’m not sure how I feel about this ^. Photographs suggest man’s work yes, because the camera has been built my a person, taken by a person, and developed by a person. But how could a painting not also show a ‘man’s work’? If anything a painting suggests a persons presence more because the paint is a material recording of a person’s movement, gesture and process.
Perhaps by ‘man’s work’ Merleau-Ponty means more artificial human prescence. A painting is certainly purer and closer to nature than a photograph.

By remaining faithful to the phenomena in his investigations of perspective, Cezanne discovered what recent psychologists have come to formulate: the lived perspective, that which we actually perceive, is not a geometric or photographic one.


^ Yes! to the ‘lived perspective’.

when the overall composition of the picture is seen globally, perspectival distortions are no longer visible in their own right but rather contribute, as they do in natural vision, to impression of an emerging order, an object in the act of appearing, organising itself before our eyes.


The idea that paint is emerging into an order before ones eyes is interesting. The brain is trying to make sense of the shapes and define them into some natural appearance. With my work, I aim for the structures to define the space and height and depth of the painting – the structure is helping the eye to find ’emerging order’ within the painting. The scale of the painting means that the dimensionality has to be defined when you step back, and then the painting re-emerges as one steps closer or further away.
This is an interesting concept!

He would start by discovering the geological foundations of the landscape; then… The task before him was, first, to forget all he had ever learned from science and, second, through these sciences to recapture the structure of the landscape as an emerging organism.


Again, idea of growing form, I like. It fits with my work and the arranging of moving brushstrokes and colours really well.

he was not God and wanted nevertheless to portray the world, to change it completely into a spectacle, to make visible how the world touches us.




Reading this text has been really useful for thinking about my work in a new way. I can better understand the purpose of the structure in my work and the abstract paint work, and better articulate my process.

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