A Reflection on Seeing

Much of what I have read lately seems to make the point that art is all about seeing. Several authors have made the point that it´s a good idea to start where you´re at. On a similar note, in the 70´s there was a slogan here in Sweden that said "write as you speak". Some say "write about what you know". However, there are complications.

I find that it´s really hard to see what you know intimately. When I was in an art class in the 80´s, we were taught to draw with the right side of our brain. What the teacher did, was to put a picture on an overhead projector upside down, and tell us to draw exactly what we saw. When we then turned our drawing around, most of us found that we had made the best drawing of our lives. Small children draw what they know. If they know (and they do) that a car has four wheels, the car in their drawing will have four wheels, even if that isn´t what they actually see when they look at the car. If a mature artist does this, we call his style naïvist.

Another tool I learned to use during a watercolour course, was a cardboard frame. We were supposed to use it to frame the landscape in front of us, to find our motif. You can´t get it all on the paper, the teacher said. It doesn´t work with a camera either, as anyone who ever tried to take a photo of New York from atop the Empire State Building knows. You come home with a bunch of very unsatisfying snaps.

It hard to capture the feeling of standing on top of the world, and that´s another complication, we often confuse what we see with what we feel. Sometimes I see photo blogs, particularly by female photograpers, where they share photos from their personal lives, and I think "no way it looks like that". It´s like they live in a white, fuzzy cloud of happiness or something. But what do I know, perhaps they actually see that? I tend to add contrast to my photos, to get them to look like what I see. Perhaps it´s just our brains working differently.

A lot of people, and a lot of artists, find that going away, travelling, helps them to see. It´s easier to look with interest and curiousity on things and places you are not familiar with. Meeting the exotic sharpens our eye, and there is also a sense of urgency, as time is often limited. When we return home, for a short time we also see the familiar with a fresh gaze. It rarely lasts very long, though. We´re talking about minutes.

Where am I going with this? Not sure, actually. Perhaps I´m trying to find a way of saying that there is no such thing as an objective photograph, or an objective depiction of any kind. There is always a point of view, and that is about where we stand, what we know, and how we feel. Any picture we take, any text we write, will be influenced by those factors.

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