“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”
~Henry David Thoreau
What's in your shrubbery?
I wonder, can you train the eye to see the world differently? Or is creative vision something you're born with?
In college, I remember sitting with an artist friend on the steps to the bell tower in front of some dense shrubbery. He asked me what I saw when I looked into the shrubs. He saw figures. An entire community of figures dancing, working, bustling around. In the bushes!
I saw twigs and leaves.
It was then I decided I’d never be an artist because I didn’t have the vision to see beyond the twigs and leaves in a potted plant.
How "real" artists see
I’ve always thought “real” artists were just born seeing the world differently and then mysteriously have the talent to share their vision through their medium, be it paint or clay or the words of a poet.
Mary Oliver, for example, awes me as someone singularly gifted at seeing the world differently:
from Look and See in Why I Wake Early
But over the last month, I’ve noticed something remarkable as I’ve deepened my commitment to my daily sketching practice, which includes a daily painting of the morning’s sunrise as seen from my kitchen window (done while the coffee brews, usually).
I notice that I’m starting to see things differently. It feels like I’m looking at and seeing things for the first time.
The sunrise is starting to look different to me every day.
Sometimes the sun washes out the distant mountains when it peaks over the horizon. Sometimes it blurs the line between mountain and sky and coats everything with the color of faded lavender when the mist from the river is rising. Sometimes the sky blazes with fire and sometimes the light sneaks quietly into the day.
A question of consciousness
I don’t know if seeing the world differently is a learnable talent. I've discovered, though, that I can consciously choose to "look and see" my world more closely. And that increasing my consciousness only a little is exponential in its rewards.
Now, let me go look at a shrub and see if it looks different all these years later.