From the moment we open our in the morning till we hit the bed in the evening, we are constantly perceiving the world through our eyes. Today we live in a world in which we are constantly bombarded with visual stimuli and where we have too little time to process that information and make sense of it. Picture-perfect moments captured on our phones remain on the device or are shared and instantly forgotten.
Visual fatigue and the eventual feeling of being overwhelmed are almost a daily experience for most. In this dense world of images, is it possible to filter snapshots, and to save them in our memory and not (just) digitally?
As early as the 20th century, psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler, the founders of the Gestalt theory, studied the ways in which we process chaotic visual stimuli, and create meaning and order in a disorderly, unruly world. The brain and eyes work together to comprehend all the information, to recognize as well as categorise, and then to retrieve when needed.
Have you ever wondered how much of it stays with you? Would you like some of it to stay longer with you? If yes, you need to transform your ways of looking into ways of seeing. In my opinion, when “looking,” we engage in a passive way with the subject, whereas when “seeing,” we actively engage with our head and heart at the same time. The latter might prove to be more pleasurable as the visual experience and exploration stays with us for longer.
How do artists see, perceive and imagine with clarity and simplicity? Do they use any specialised techniques and tools to differentiate the various ways they see? To refine our skills and progress from simply looking to seeing, we can take the help of several treatises. One such is John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which condenses aesthetics and politics while teaching us to engage with art at the same time being mindful of the impact that visual arts has on society. It can help us to answer the question: In
times when there is a barrage of images and the threat of inevitable visual fatigue looms large, how can we, as creative individuals, learn to see?
Being an artist myself, I feel slowing down is the first step in mindful seeing. Slowing down allows us to cut the noise within and to absorb the world around us better.
We hear and see with more clarity when there are fewer internal distractions and this lets us engage all our senses to observe the finer nuances of our environment. A walk in a park without headphones means noticing the chirping of birds, the hum of insects, the texture of the grass, the intermingled scent of flowers and foliage – this may sound like a cliché but it does help us enter a state of greater concentration. It is then that we are in a state of flow, and in this moment of connection, we perceive what is in front of us with greater clarity, thus being able to translate it as artists. It is only on the slow-moving vehicle that you are able to see and absorb the surroundings to enjoy the journey, otherwise everything rapidly passes us by as if in a haze.
The next step is to let go of any notion of familiarity with the subject. In fact, familiarity can dull one’s senses. When we observe the world with a fresh pair of eyes, even the most mundane things have the potential to surprise and, even better, to delight! One looks more intently at everything, whether it is a tree, a person, or a feeling! I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong way of creating art. For me, it’s your voice, your imprint, which is unique and yours alone. Just like each of us has a distinct handwriting, we also have our own ways and style of making art.
When you write, your letters are bound to look different from anyone else’s and we accept this without resistance. Then why not your art? Your style may not be realistic or abstract or figurative, but it is, after all, your style of seeing and representing. Let the apple not look like an apple. Of course, if you like other styles, you can always work towards finding your voice in that direction – it’s as easy (or difficult) as learning cursive handwriting or calligraphy!
Slowing down and letting go are also the perfect ways to start your creative journey. It’s time to suspend any judgements and be free of expectations! And finally, our aim is to harness the power of making. By learning to see and then practising without any self-consciousness, creating any form of work using your hands, heart, and head will leave you with an everlasting impression and knowledge that time can’t undo.
It is about going back to the basics: do you remember tracing the alphabet, where you were taught to draw letters? It may seem very simple or mundane, but it is a great exercise for registration. Doing it over and over again, it naturally becomes muscle memory. Letters are nothing but visual forms that are recorded in a child’s memory for the lifetime.
In this aspect, practising art is no different from learning to write. The more you engage with art, the more powerfully artistic expression emerges with clarity and conviction. Although there are loads of tools readily available in the market – from brushes, ink pens, and reeds, to charcoal, and crayons – there is a certain joy in creating your own tools. Perhaps you can use a dried branch or a feather as a brush to make quick sketches. Or you could crush leaves to make green paint for your next painting. Creativity lies in the making.
Excerpted with permission from Slow is Beautiful: The Ultimate Art Journal for Mindful Living Through Nature, Ahlawat Gunjan, Penguin.