Object Dar't

November 14, 2013

The Art of Seeing

I am often told about my paintings, “I wish I saw the world like that.” Well, let’s talk about that because it’s important! If it weren’t then I wouldn’t be told that constantly. My paintings somehow make a difference for people. I won’t pretend I understand. I don’t. The experience of being a creator versus an observer is diametrically different. But apparently, the way I view the world is something that others need. And I am all about passing that on. So, if you’ve wound up here, it’s not by mistake. You are someone, who for whatever reason, needs to see differently.


Do you REALLY want to see the world the way I do? It’ll take some change on your part; a shift in perception and a smidgen of practice. That is if you really want to see what I see. I’m hoping you do because honestly; the world is breathtaking. No, I’m not talking about that waterfall in the rainforest. I’m talking about the common, every day world; the people you live near, the things that surround you. We’re supposed to see the world this way. The result is waking up each morning with a joy and wonder about what you will see and do that day. It’s the reason my work calls to you. Why we’ve taught each other otherwise is an utter mystery (and frankly a real shame) to me.

So how did I get here? I took 2 drawing classes in college. And it changed my life. Not because I was drawing or because technical information was being passed on to me but because my professor taught me how to really SEE. You can’t draw accurately (which was the goal) unless you can stop your brain long enough so that your eyes can see and then your hand put it down on paper. I call this the process of "new eyes." I admit though, I took this skill to a different level but we'll get to that part later.

The process is simple. First, you have to acknowledge the fact that as you are going along, you’re not really paying attention. Your brain does a quick scan and fills in a LOT of information. (btw..there’s a ton of information, studies and tests out there that will prove this to you.) And it’s all based on past experience. Experiences which then become your belief system about the world around you. So, in reality, you are seeing what you (and your brain) want you to see. The problem is, you can’t gain a fresh perspective when you are dragging along every assumption from the past.    

So what if you changed your gaze slightly? What if you really paid attention? What if you didn’t allow your brain to just automatically fill in all this information? What if you looked at every day objects with new eyes that had no previous information or experience? How would things look differently? What details would you find that your old eyes would have missed?

I’ll illustrate. Here are some photos I just took from my yard. Nothing profound here. You see this kind of scene every day which is why I chose them.

Here’s a pine tree in my back yard. Your brain is telling you, “Yeah, it’s a tree. Whoppdie do. Tall, straight, green n brown. Blah blah.” It tells you that because it’s simplifying everything for you into black and white. (And I mean that both literally and metaphorically.) But close your eyes, hit the mental reset button and look CLOSELY. The tree is certainly tall but it’s definitely not straight. It’s shaped like a “Y.” And there’s beautiful color there! The arrow on the left points to a section of the tree that is actually a deep shade of magenta. The arrow on the right points to a section that is purple. Holy crap – it’s not actually a straight brown tree at all. More importantly, how do you feel about this silly leaning tree now that you can acknowledge it's not brown and boring? 

Next is the dead hydrangea bush in my front yard. Again, your brain will tell you, “brown and straight.” But again, look closely at all the stalks. What color are they truly? There’s an awful lot of red and orange in those stalks. Hey, they’re not actually brown! And look at the sense of movement in the stalks that are leaning and curving. Your brain skips over all of that and just tells you things it thinks it already knows. 


Now here comes the kicker; the next level. The truth is, I go through every day operating upon the absolute assumption that I don’t know doodly-squat about jack-diddly. After all, at one time, I didn’t know the pine tree was magenta and purple. So I asked myself what other things I could have been seeing inaccurately. It turns out; A LOT! So, now I don’t just apply the “new eyes” principle to what I’m seeing. I also apply it to what I’m experiencing. And by doing so, I see the world the way I paint it; as beautiful, sunny, colorful and soooooo whimsically funny. Isn’t that preferable to the world you’ve been seeing?

My Welcome to Warwick, MA painting is a perfect example. Those chickens in the road...they're real. They are actual chickens - the Killay's chickens - and they run around on Main Street all the time. They're sassy chickens too. They move for no one. Well except the Fed Ex man which is why there's a truck in my painting. Now there are one of two ways to look at this chicken scenario. One way would be to get completely pissy about not being able to get to the Town Hall in a hurry without being a chicken killer. The second would be to see the absolute humor in these fearless chickens who have the power to stop ordinary men smack dab in the middle of the road AND to acknowledge how freaking funny it is that they only scurry for the Fed Ex man. It's your brain's choice which of those two outlooks it will hold. 

So here’s what I learned to ask myself; what if the world isn’t what you think it is? If a pine tree isn’t actually straight and brown, then maybe the world isn’t a shitty place either. Maybe the world isn’t full of assholes that are out to screw and hurt others? What if it’s actually full of kind and good people, who have been taught and now operate on the belief that they need to protect themselves? And what if your brain is filling in information that isn’t really accurate? What if every time you meet someone, your brain is saying “this is a human and getting close or being kind to them could wind up with you getting hurt” and uses each time you do get hurt to say, “see I told you so!” Then you’d suddenly have a whole belief system around human beings as hurtful. But what if..just what if…you started to look at others as possibilities instead of liabilities? What would happen? How would your life change?

For me, it’s become very easy to reach out to others and connect. I simply do it with no expectation that anything - not even kindness - be returned. And the way my heart feels when I do (even when it has a negative outcome); wow. I also see a change in others when I interact with them from this fresh perspective. They blossom! Sometimes I am touched to the core by our exchange. Other times, I feel so proud that I made a difference. And trust me – being a positive experience for other human beings really does make a difference. It gives them hope and a sneaking suspicion that world might not be a completely sucky place after all. Yeah, I get hurt. Not very often, but it happens. So what. I’m strong and healthy enough to heal. The blessings of a whimsical and beautiful world have the power to heal those hurts very quickly. So try to SEE. Watch what happens. You have little to lose (and I mean that literally because the belief that the world is a shitty, colorless, cold place is nothing worth holding onto) and everything to gain.