When I was little, my family had a Norman Rockwell wall clock of “The Doctor and the Doll” that I used to spend hours staring at. I loved Rockwell’s crisp, realist style and his spot-on depictions of facial expressions—his art was relatable to me. I distinctly remember disliking Claude Monet’s art when I was little because I thought he did not do a good job painting the world realistically. I wondered if he realized life wasn’t as blurry as he portrayed it. It wasn’t until I got older that I understood that art wasn’t about just holding a mirror up to life. Art was a way of seeing the world and sharing that vision with others.
Ways of Seeing
Some artists look at a sunset and want to capture its expanse and grandeur in their work. Other artists want to emphasize the sunset’s brilliant colors, its unique formation of clouds, or the glowing, fleeting atmosphere it creates.
Art reflects an artist’s vision, and that vision is based on what a person knows or believes. It is also based on what a person chooses to look at.
“It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.” –John Berger, from “Ways of Seeing”
Finding Inspiration in Our Surroundings
Oftentimes I’ve found I have turned off my senses and failed to give much notice to my surroundings. Just this summer I discovered the most beautiful purple peonies blooming in my backyard. It turns out they have been there for several years, but I failed to notice them before because they only bloom for about a week. How does life get so busy that I don’t look out my back window for a week? Good question.
Finding inspiration is as much about opening our eyes as it is about being present in our surroundings. To be artists, we must take in our surroundings. This might involve changing our perspective from time to time, and it should definitely involve us noticing how we interpret what we see—and understanding why. Once something stands out to us and we know why, we can find inspiration for creative ways to highlight that point to others.
“I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.” -Henri Matisse
How Ways of Seeing Are Affected by Our Times
In this technological age, websites like Pinterest change the way we see things. People now make and share inspiration boards with each other online rather than just clip images, letters, and drawings to a bulletin board in their bedroom. While it can be useful to self-curate images and texts to match and express our own vision on a “bulletin board,” (whether real or virtual), websites that collect data on our interests and feed us only more things like it can negatively affect the way we see things.
1. Seeing only similar or related things can isolate us and prevent us from growing, developing, and challenging our beliefs and tastes.
2. Sharing our personal interests and vision can subject us to more manipulative advertisements that use our own preferences to try to speak our language and get us to buy their products.
An Artist’s Vision
Ultimately, as artists, we should make it a practice to always be mindful of our surroundings, for we never know when inspiration will strike. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss any more purple peonies.
What do you think? Has technology changed the way you see things? Does it tend to make people aware of more perspectives or does it tend to encourage like-minded thinking?