Forget the Name of What You Are Seeing

5-waterlilies-claude-monet.I’m not wild about Monet’s art. But I am wild about what he had to say about seeing, producing, creating. He, an art master of great renown, expressed so perfectly that with which I have been unsuccessfully flailing about. Namely, the importance of SEEING. Not just looking at things, not just naming them and moving on, but slowing down, actually removing yourself from thinking, and seeing what you are looking at.

Way back in the late 19th century, Monet said, To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at. And I think that’s so true–seeing is not about thinking, but about feeling.

I’ve been trying to adequately describe the experience I have when creating things, particularly when I am taking photographs using a macro lens to get very, very close to my subjects. Photography is often for me such an intimate experience in that I do not feel separate from what I am looking at; I literally feel part of the thing I am looking at. I dissolve through the metal of the camera, through the lens, and into the view. I am the film (which feels plastic, liquid to me), and I’m connected to everything, as though I’m breathing through flowers, shining with the light that surrounds everything. There is no thought, just feeling.

Seeing things this way is rather like being in love–in the beginning of love when every single detail of your lover’s being is observed and cherished. The way the corners of his lips move at different angles and speeds when he smiles. How beautiful his hands are. His legs. How fluid his movements when he gets out of bed. You are in a sort of suspended animation as you appreciate the fine qualities of your lover. You see everything, you remember it over and over throughout the day as though you took pictures with your eyes and burned them onto your heart.

I feel compelled to describe my experience of seeing while I’m taking photographs not to proclaim some special, unique abilities. But rather, I’m insisting that everyone can see so much more if they’d slow down, turn off the constant voices inside their heads, pay attention, and shut out the billion multitasking distractions we are all tempted to heed these days. You do not have to be “an artist” to see. But you do have to chose to see. To stop. Look. Connect. Feel.

“Paint what you really see, not what you think you ought to see; not the object isolated as in a test tube, but the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere, with the blue dome of Heaven reflected in the shadows.” –Claude Monet

Monet wrote about painting. I’m writing about creativity, in this instance, photography, but both of us (here, I am taking liberal license with Monet’s thoughts) are writing about the process of seeing. I think that we can all experience the extraordinary depth of the Sublime with clear seeing, unencumbered by preconceptions, labels, and words, where we are One with the object we are seeing.

We must learn to see deliberately, explicitly making that choice, slowing down, paying attention. No, not every moment of every day–we have jobs, families, demands on our attention. But we need to make room in our days so even if we are not “an artist,” we can fill up with beauty and expand our souls by seeing the riches of the world around us.

“… I have come to feel that everything, even the most ordinary daily affair, is enriched by the lessons that can be gleaned from art: that beauty is often where you don’t expect to find it,” writes Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic of The New York Times, a man who has spent a large portion of his life looking at and writing about art.

“It is always good to keep your eyes wide open, because you never how what you will discover… ”

“The light constantly changes, and that alters the atmosphere and beauty of things every minute.”--Claude Monet



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