James Turrell often cites the allegory of Plato's Cave in relation to his work: humans chained immobile to a wall in an underground cave see nothing but shadows of figures on the cave wall; they are prisoners of their limited perceptions, unable to recognize other forms above the cave which cast the shadows.
Turrell's life and work has been dedicated to enlarging his own perception as well as ours. His formal education was equally rigorous in science as in art, and the artist's numerous extracurricular and professional pursuits, most notably flying, and now ranching, augment his broad knowledge of the workings of the universe. Turrell's decision to become an artist above all else is perhaps a reflection of the fact that so much of human understanding and knowledge is indebted to, and at the same time a prisoner of, our subjective perception.
As one of the artist's favorite sources, Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince reads: "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
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