Light For The Artist by Ted Seth Jacobs

Light For the Artist is a short 100 or so pages that packs in a lot of information. It’s the type of read that feels like it was written by an educator/professor and for students: lacking in friendly tones and densely worded, it can be fairly inscrutable. But that isn’t to say there isn’t useful information in here; certainly, mastering light is arguably the most important discipline of a painter.


The book isn’t about technique nor style. Rather, the author is careful to note that it is about explaining light in detail so the artist can use that to make their own work more sophisticated. The book is broken down into three sections: (1) Symbolism and Perception: Word Versus Light. (2) The Nature of Light: It’s Structure Action, And Effects. (3) Toward a Philosophy of Perception.  Within those sections, subjects include directional quality of light, light moving through space, orchestrating light effects, stripping away preconceptions, foreshortening of light, multiple light sources, light on shiny surfaces, light as the teacher, and more.

The book is thorough in its approach to light but honestly it does read like a physics textbook – very dry and you have to reread a lot in order to understand the points presented. That isn’t to say that we’re dealing with hard physics here; there are no prisms, light spectrum, wavelengths, or any of those concepts. But what is discussed is done in a very dry, impenetrable, and blocky way. I found myself rereading a lot.

Most, if not all, of the images in the book are from the author. That was a bit problematic to me in a book that purports in the very beginning to not be about one style. In order to really make the points work, I would have liked to see all kinds of examples from different artists and especially different eras. Most of the author’s works are from 1960-1980, and of naked women, with a few still life and landscapes thrown in to break up the monotony, so the endless repetition of T&A (tasteful though it is) isn’t as useful as variety could be. Especially since those images aren’t references to the points of that chapters and seem to be randomly thrown in for filler.

The author does a great job of presenting examples of how light interpretation can be done incorrectly or correctly. I found those images the most useful; side by side comparisons of the same image, one stronger and one weaker. But there simply weren’t enough and so I’d end up having to reread and reread to understand the concepts. I also wish there were photographs of the scene to use as a reference to see how the author was interpreting the actual light. It seems too narrow a focus to see only through the author’s eyes with his finished works.  Even better, I would have loved to see a scene’s lighting painted several different ways by different artists.

There were other odd contributions by the author – randomly quoting Sanskrit or calling our sun “Aton”. In a straightforward, academic-feeling book, those odd inclusions made the concepts within feel less academic and more like a hippy acid trip of nebulous ideas. Had a balance between the two (academic vs new age) been achieved, it would have made for an excellent, modern, straightforward, and very useful reference. As it is, this is a good book that you’ll want to take to the park and reread sections at leisure so you can figure them out.

Reviewed from an ARC.

This entry was posted in ARC, Book Reviews, non fiction, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

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