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Posts Tagged ‘seeing’

What do you see?

In beauty, behavior, culture, design, life, photography on November 4, 2012 at 1:03 am

Here is a lovely blog post from a young British man who keeps a limp yellow balloon as a reminder of a lost young man who needed his help — and who gave it to him. When he looks at the balloon, on the surface nothing more than a piece of yellow rubber, he sees connection, kindness, a reminder of the things he’s grateful for in his own life.

I love his clarity of vision — both rare and precious.

And here’s a great post by a feminist blogger deconstructing one of the most iconic photos of a man and woman kissing. Turns out it’s not at all what we thought — or hoped.

And here’s a recent post by labor activist Sara Ziff, whose organization represents the rights of models, arguing that the use of teen girls on the runway is a poor choice.

Not to mention, two huge and shocking scandals that have recently rocked the United States — the conviction and sentencing of Jerry Sandusky, a football coach who abused children in his care and the late Jimmy Savile, a beloved BBC entertainer, now accused by 300 adults of abusing them when he was also a popular figure, like Sandusky — whose public facade was a deep devotion to the care and welfare of children.

We see what we want to see.

The other day, my husband came upstairs from the laundry room and burst into tears. A proud and private Hispanic man, he very rarely cries. Typically, he began apologizing for his emotional reaction to what he had just seen — one of our neighbors, a retired single woman fighting multiple cancers. Normally gruff and private, she was staggering along the hallway with a friend, clearly weak, in pain and scared.

Jose saw it all.

It’s one of the reasons I love him. He is a career photographer and photo editor, so his talent, and profession, is observation and analysis. But it’s much more than that. He sees the person inside the clothes, the fear inside the bravado, the doubt beneath the smile.

I live in a suburb of New York, in a small town that, to my eye, is bursting with beauty: a red brick concert hall built in 1885; wrought iron fences, cupolas, wisteria, a view straight up the Hudson River, one often shrouded by fog or mist or snow or rain. Every day that I live here, and that’s now more than 20 years, I am deeply grateful to live in a place with so much to delight my eye and lift my heart.

As I write this, a bouquet of crimson-tinged calla lilies, in a hand-made pot, sits on my desk. It’s curved, sensuous, lovely — and a reminder of my wedding day, because my bouquet contained those colors and those flowers. So in them I also see, and savor, a sweet moment from my past.

I’ve lived in Paris, London, Toronto, Montreal, Cuernavaca and a small town in New Hampshire. Each place had ugly bits and moments of deep, desperate unhappiness in my life.

But each also offered its own specific beauty, from the austere, gray elegance of Paris to Toronto’s enormous parks and ravines and the islands in its harbor to Lebanon’s white houses with dark green shutters. I have a photo I took on Green Street, there, of late afternoon sunlight gilding the telephone wires.

I was in the Times Square subway station recently and, for once, looked up at the stretch of round glass embedded in the ceiling that allows light in from the street above. It was a sunny day, and the shadows of those above created a moving, kinetic artwork, their bodies and their motion making a dancing, ever-changing light show — of glass and concrete. It was mesmerizing.

Beauty is everywhere.

So is need — for love, tenderness, warmth, compassion, connection.

We are, all of us, surrounded daily by loveliness, grace, wisdom, intelligence.

We are, all of us, surrounded daily by pain, fear, anger, depression, frustration.

We are, all of us, surrounded by tremendous material wealth — and grinding, terrifying poverty.

We are, all of us, living in a world tinged with mystery, magic, madness.

We are, all of us, surrounded by exquisite creation — the squirrel nibbling an acorn, the hawk circling overhead, the blue jay flashing through the pines, the mushroom clinging to a rotted log.

We are, all of us, sheltered nightly beneath a sky freckled by galaxies, mere pindots on the shoulder of the universe.

As you move through your world(s), what do you see?

Which eyes do you see with?

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, History, life on April 16, 2012 at 12:14 am

In 1988, I took a class on connoisseurship, to learn about antiques, at Historic Deerfield, in Massachusetts, led by its young, enthusiastic director. Five women showed up for the class and our first session showed us a battered, ugly, brown shell of a chair. And a bright blue, very pretty Bible stand.

Which one, he asked us, was authentic — i.e. of the period — and which was a reproduction?

Of course, the repro was the blue box. To our, then 20th century, gaze it was small, neat, tidy. And so pretty!

But not at all the right size or shape to be true to its time. Inevitably and until then unconsciously, we were seeing it through a contemporary lens, thinking how it fit into a 20th century home and life.

The hideous chair, of course, was the real thing, and terribly valuable.

That class taught us some indelible and powerful lessons:

not to make snap judgments

not to be beguiled by the externally soothing

not to be seduced by mere aesthetics

Whenever I see an early painting or building or use an early textile, (like this one, in the photo above, that covers my desk, sitting beneath my Mac, a 19th century woolen paisley shawl), I wonder about the people who made it and used it. They didn’t have electricity or television or computers or cars or effective anesthesia or antibiotics.

I know my love of old things is some powerful desire to time-travel, to place myself, even safely and temporarily, inside the lives and minds of those long gone. I often start my mornings, if I wake up before sunrise, by lighting several candles. The illumination is gentle and makes me ponder how the world appeared when that was the only source of light.

Imagine how different everything looked!

Having studied interior design, I’m passionate about interior (and exterior) beauty, whether in materials, colors, use of space. I live in suburban New York, but I often buy and read design magazines from France, England and my native Canada to see how differently their homes are created. I find them inspiring and often much more adventurous than the looks offered by American publications. The light is different, the use of historical allusion easier and colors often much richer and more muddled.

Not to mention I live and work in a one-bedroom apartment. The bathrooms and kitchens featured in American magazine are sometimes bigger than my living room! Europeans are more accustomed to designing well and intelligently for much small(er) spaces.

I love that elegant European homes often mix very modern and very old objects, as our does ours; a Tizio lamp and 18th century engravings of a South Seas voyage, to name two. For inspiration, check out Elle Decoration, Marie-Claire Maison, every version of Cote Sud/Ouest. etc.; my absolute favorite is British magazine,  The World of Interiors.

Having lived in Canada, England, France and Mexico — each of which has distinct aesthetic styles that also vary by region, in materials, colors, scale, proportion — I see design with an eye that adores the brilliant pinks and blues of Mexico, the deep black-green of Canadian forests, the gentle tones of a William Morris print, the impossible elegance of a Parisian maison particulier.

This afternoon I walked the cobble-stoned streets of old Philadelphia, looking at homes built in 1752. How did those streets appear then to the first residents?

On Saturday we visited a show of van Gogh’s paintings and I was most moved by one image, of a field in a downpour, the view through his hospital window. If you click that link above, the painting I love is in it!

How did his physical and mental state affect how he saw?

How do you see things?

What has influenced your eye?

The Joy Of Failure — Learning To See Is Tougher Than It Looks

In art, behavior, education on May 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm
A stainless steel tea infuser.

Prettier than this one...Image via Wikipedia

I only have one more drawing class before this four-week session ends. This morning the teacher set up a still life so utterly daunting I sat there paralyzed while I tried — like some medieval warrior staring up at a very large castle — to figure out my point of entry.

It doesn’t sound like much: a 1940s floral print linen tablecloth, and on it a pale yellow Fiestaware teapot, a red tea tin, a dark blue mug with a spoon on top and a sterling tea-ball. Perspective! Scale! Color! All those highlights (reflections) on the glossy surfaces of the pot and mug and spoon.

The exercise was to work in primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Easy, right? Not when the yellow ceramic is soft, pale shade — and my pencils are all strong colors. I managed to get the teapot and the mug done in two hours, when the teacher finally came by to take a look.

The great thing with drawing is it’s immediately obvious when it’s lousy. The problem is — how to fix it. The pot was too small, the mug too large. There was no fixing it.

I started again. Do-over!

This time I focused only on the teapot and spent 60 minutes just on it. It was certainly recognizable as a teapot. It was just lopsided.

As the teacher helped me figure out how to do it better next time, she packed away the items, including the tea-strainer that I’d just spent three hours looking at — focused on it only as something I had to capture and portray realistically, as a problem to solve.

I hadn’t even noticed that this tiny elegant object was itself in the form of a teapot, sort of a sterling silver fractal.

“Sometimes you have to step away to see things clearly,” she said. Indeed.

The pleasure of my drawing class is that, for three hours out of my week, I get to make a big fat mess in my sketchbooks as I (re)-learn how to see and how to translate what I see into something that makes visual sense and might even be attractive. I have two stories due to The New York Times today; no “mistakes” welcome there.

Unlike much of the rest of my life, class offers me a safe place to “fail” — to try something new, to do it poorly, to take gentle and helpful instruction, to go away and think hard about why I couldn’t even see clearly that which was before my eyes for so long. My fellow students are planning to show their work soon, but I’m in no rush to join them. I don’t need or want that validation — or that pressure to do it right or well or good enough.

My lousy drawings, my “failures”, are giving me great joy. That’s plenty for now.

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