The Fine Art of Seeing and How to Improve It

As we go through life our brain filters what we “see”.  It’s a necessary part of coping with eyes that would otherwise provide information overload.  But as a writer I need to “see” things that others may not.  Why?  Because I’ve got to describe them in my books.  It might be how a a woman’s blouse creases below the bust line, or the shape a man’s worn-out shoe.  I might need to describe how a car tire succumbs to weight as it sits on pavement, or the way asphalt grays as it ages.

It’s said, though, that it is the artists that really “see” and I envy envied them.  Now that I’ve spent a couple months being an artist, though, I feel that artists don’t see differently.  Rather they simply stop to see what we can all see if we take the time.  Instead of looking at a glass bottle, seeing the symbol of a glass bottle our brain has cataloged away, artists actually look at the bottle, seeing not only its outline but also the reflections within it; the way the light bounces off some surfaces and not others, how the surface curves and how the colors of the glass vary according to its thickness.

I know, I know…you don’t have the talent to be an artist.  I’ve spent six decades saying that same thing of myself.  Most of us are taught this ‘fact’ early in our lives.  But, did you know, there are actually people who don’t believe that?  Danny Gregory is one such person.  He’s written several books on the subject but the one that takes this subject head on is The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission To Be The Artist You Truly Are. Danny believes that anyone can and should enjoy and create art.   His contention is that being creative improves the quality of our lives. Here’s one example of how Danny makes his case:

“They say that when someone is sick and dying, with a heightened awareness that their days are numbered and few, they develop a new appreciation of little things.  Things intensify and become special and precious.  That view out the window, that snowflake, that conversation, that kiss – each one could be your last.

The trick is to incorporate this perspective into your healthy – though challenging – life.  Drawing does that; you pay attention in a way you normally wouldn’t.”

What Danny Gregory points out is that our problem isn’t a lack of talent.   Talent doesn’t matter.  What matters is our definition of art.  He suggests, and my two months of being an artist supports the view, that art isn’t defined by the finished product.  It’s about the process.  When you draw something, success isn’t defined by how well it resembles the object being drawn but rather, “Did you express yourself? Did you have fun?  Did you learn something?  Did you see?”  One doesn’t have to be Monet to achieve these goals but the process allows us to enjoy being creative.

I’ve only been drawing for a couple months, now and I’m not very good at it.  But everything has become interesting and fun to me.  I sat in a doctor’s office a couple weeks ago, a situation that normally would bore me to tears.  But I was looking at the people, their clothes, and noticing how pants wrinkle around the knees when a person is seated, how the colors changed between light and shadow.  I watched as a guy’s arm articulated while he was hanging up his coat.

And when I was raking leaves I noticed the many shades of yellow and red, and how many leaves had the equivalent of rust spots on them.  And have you ever looked at a potato peeler?  I mean really looked?  Confucius was right, “Everything has its beauty” and I’m beginning to see it.

A building here in Quebec City (pen/watercolor, 3"x5")


Cheers — Larry






4 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Seeing and How to Improve It

  1. I agree with you that “talent” doesn’t matter, but it seems you have it anyway! Welcome to EDM. We’ll look forward to seeing lots more of your work!

  2. I went to the Miami Book Fair International this weekend, always a pleasure, and when Robert Pinsky spoke about what environment he looked for in the world to describe in his poems, it reminded me of “everyday matters” and informed me as an artist. I thought about how I can apply his approach to my art. I was struck by the absolute parallel between writer and artist. I will be doing a post about it (as soon as I color my drawing of him at the fair – lol).

    I like your ink and watercolor very much – you have a good sense of perspective and the building has a lot of character.

    One more thing – I know, long comment – another great book that addresses the issue of how little inherent talent truly matters in artmaking is “Art and Fear” by Bayles and Orland.

    It is clear that you are going to be a wonderful addition to the Everyday Matters online group. I hope you find it as totally rewarding as I have. Such a nurturing environment – I have progressed much further than I ever would have had I sequestered myself in a room somewhere.

    Welcome to EDM!

  3. An interesting post, I think part of being an artist is the looking and observing and not necessarily how you put it on paper.
    Welcome to EDM…your sketch is great by the way!

  4. Your writing always makes me smile. Something about the way you
    tie stories in from everyday life with quotes, facts, and simple, witty sentences
    is too charming to resist. My perception
    about drawing from life has changed.
    I will pick up my pencil, which I have forsaken
    in my great discouragement, and rise again.

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