Seeing

August 15, 2013

Of late I’ve felt the need to have a camera to keep on myself in expectation of the visual experiences that happen when one isn’t expecting it. For I only realized the value of photography when I realized that certain art is not something done but something seen. Just as moments of accidental genius bring about brilliant poetics, like heat sponsoring the creation of metalwork, moments of seeing are the result of the given capacity to experience. What remains is to exercise one’s ability to notice.

And yet on a more fundamental level, maybe all art is the act of seeing–visually, verbally, musically, conceptually. Observing two people from underneath a staircase in such a way that blocks the upper half of their body and results in an image potentially laden with meaning, an event of seeing which comes upon a person unexpectedly, is not something achieved but something accidental. Many of the surrealists seem to know this, but it might only seem more obvious because they praise the accident of images bubbling from the unconscious and slamming together in consciousness. And in the same way, seeing a connection between two concepts is something received, not chosen. A surge of ideas may come when I ask for it, it may not–but what thoughts will come I do not know. It is even a logical absurdity to anticipate a particular idea before it arrives.

If there’s a difference between the kind of photography I’m talking about and the act of digging out a written or drawn work, it may be that the latter is more like mining. A miner cannot choose to find copper, but he can direct his efforts toward a choice location. In fact, this analogy is fitting for all the Arts. A writer, a painter, a sculptor cannot choose to achieve a moment of insight, but she can aim her contemplation toward a particular subject.

The glory of an artist is supposed to be his creation, but at times I think his work is journeying and observing, not making.

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3 Responses to “Seeing”

  1. 12kilroy Says:

    I love your last sentence here. [Which means, I think, I agree with it and hadn’t really thought about it before.


    • It’s not something I necessarily want to believe, but which makes sense to me.

      • 12kilroy Says:

        I think it holds true (at least in large degree) for music. Music seems to be a way of hearing. That I perceive it that way *may* be a function of the fact that I have spent far more time playing other people’s works than producing my own. But in playing the works of others, what I bring to it is (or can be) as significant a part of the process as the text. That isn’t at all to downplay the work of the composer – it’s just that two different people can take the same work and make it two entirely different things. And that process really is a type of ‘hearing’. It’s as if the ‘music’ is an entirely separate thing from either the notes I’m reading or what I am bringing to it – the performance just seems to point to some other reality.

        My composition experience (so far … hopefully) is limited enough that I can’t say it is the same with any certainty.

        But it does seem to apply to writing. And photography is a lovely example. A couple painters I know would agree – but I think theirs would be a minority view. Artists, writers, creatives generally are really attached to the idea of creation.


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