As a museum member, I was able to get in when the doors opened at 9:30, but the crowds were overwhelming. I looked at the paintings the best I could. It was more of a challenge to really see them. I longed for each room to be empty of people as I walked in, for I wanted to sit and take time to see. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Still, it got me thinking about the difference between looking and seeing, especially after I read something Katherine Kuh wrote in My Love Affair with Modern Art, the memoir I mentioned in the last post: We can learn to look, but to see is another matter. One looks first and sees later. Looking is an ocular affair; seeing demands total integration, both conscious and unconscious.
So I opened Webster's Dictionary and learned that to have a look at something is to take a glance at it. Glance implies an act that is brief, indirect, not full. We can walk by a person, flower, sculpture, building, bird or the ocean, quickly notice it, and move on. To see, on the other hand, is to "have experience of" or "undergo," "come to know" or "discover," even "understand." And that takes time.
Nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time...If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me - but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
You would enter the somber studio and see nothing but vast black canvases, or at least what appeared at first glance to be black. Then slowly as you sat there with Mark beside you, the color emerged, predominantly dark, dark red burning through dense overlays of pigment. He wanted to make these paintings, which relied both on color and carefully adjusted texture, breathe with a mysterious incorporeal life. It took time not only to see but to understand them.
What happens for you when you take the time to truly examine a tapestry, a tree, a shell, or someone's face rather than merely glance at it?
What internal changes do you notice when you shift from looking to seeing?