Debbie is walking past her living room. She is struck suddenly by the shadow of a plant, cast on a glass door.
She stands enraptured for a moment, then rushes to find pencil and a sketch pad, so she can catch this fleeting moment that has impressed its beauty on her consciousness.
What is it about Debbie that privileges her with this wonderful moment in her day?
She experiences it because she is an artist. By artist, I mean anyone that draws regularly. If you do, then you have my permission to call yourself an artist.
So here’s my hypotheses:
As artists, we see things differently.
We see the same things, but we see different things in them. Through learning to see, we see more.
I don’t mean we’re particularly special, or that we’re born with a different way of perceiving the world. The kind of seeing we employ is learned. It’s at least partly – possibly mostly – that we habitually focus our attention more on what we see, and partly because we’re actively looking for different things.
The art of seeing
Seeing is not the same as looking. We look at things all the time, passively, barely taking them in.
Seeing is something we actively participate in. Seeing is an act.
I came across a great example of this recently in a book about Japanese painting, written by a western aficionado of Japanese art in the early part of the last century. It relates the experience of a noted Japanese artist, Okubo Shibutsu – famous for his ink paintings of bamboo.
The author writes:
It is said that the full moon casts the shadow of the bamboo in a way no other light approaches. The learned Okubu Shibutsu first observed this and the discovery led to his becoming the greatest of all bamboo painters. Nightly he used to trace with sumi such bamboo shadows on his paper window.
Now, this passage struck me because it forcibly reminded me of something I’d read very recently.
Debbie, a member of our practice community, had been working on one of the exercises that the community is based on. This particular exercise involves negative shape drawing – a method of drawing that emphasises drawing the shapes around an object rather than the object itself. If you’ve ever tried it, you know it amounts to a different way of seeing.
Here’s what Debbie posted on the forum:
As many of you know your life and art intertwine on a daily basis. Well today as I was walking past my living room one of those moments occurred!
The shadow from a Mandevilla I have hanging by my front door was casting a beautiful shadow on the glass of the door.
I drew a sketch picking up on the interesting shapes and spaces I was enjoying. It was both meditative and fun to sketch from life in this session. Don’t you just love it when learning and inspiration come together serendipitously? I smiled and was grateful for this nice moment this morning.
Here’s a photo Debbie took of the visual effect that arrested her so much:
Here’s the lovely sketch she made, from life, in the moment, of what she saw:
So do artists see differently?
My answer: Yes, artists do see differently.
But I don’t believe that this is an inborn gift. I believe it’s a skill that develops over time.
I’ve seen it with Creative Triggers members, who talk about finding themselves rapt by visual phenomena that they might have missed had they not been involved in daily practice of their art.
Would our Japanese artist have been so taken with the shadows of bamboo if he wasn’t already engaged in drawing it? I don’t think so.
So we do see differently, yes.
It’s part of the enrichment we find as practising artists (and anyone who draws regularly deserves that title, remember – that means you too). It comes with the territory. And it’s one of the benefits that makes regular involvement in visual art worthwhile. We come to a closer relationship with the world around us through a broader and more penetrating perception of it.
So what do you think?
Do artists see differently?
Let me know in the comments.
Best wishes, and thanks for reading,
Debbie has just started a blog dedicated to these “Small Pauses”
You can see more of her work on her Fine Art Shop.
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