“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way –things I had no words for.”
Artists know about looking at things in ways that are beneficial to us all. We can each use these skills to live richer more satisfying lives. If that’s not a big enough reason to read on, would these benefits interest you?
With no artistic ability necessary, seeing with artist’s eyes can:
- Increase your ability to concentrate
- Lead you into greater curiosity
- Expand you understanding of the world
- Test your knowledge about what works for you
- Broaden you sensory input and delight
- Enlarge your experience of the interconnectedness of all things
All of these benefits can arise without ever picking up a paintbrush or drawing pencil. This experience is about seeing our world differently, mindfully and attentively. Artists see the world differently because in order to capture the image of a flower so that it is recognizable, they must carefully observe it in a multitude of ways. If we are going to begin to draw beyond the 6th grade level (where most of us stopped drawing when art became an elective) we must learn to see in a new way not just with our eyes, but with our mind, hands and senses. This level of enriched seeing can lead to greater experiences of Flow.
Artists know how to shift their eyes from normal viewing to novelty seeing. When they do this, even the most mundane objects take on new life. Novelty seeing focuses the mind and eyes in a more purposeful and direct manner. For example, in this moment look at the clothes you’re wearing. What do they say about you? Are you currently in a comfy/casual, business/button-down or some other experience? How do your clothes feel on your body? Soft and soothing, tight and constricting: all have a different message for us. Now look at the fabric, and notice the color, textures, and fibers. Can you see the weave or individual stitching on a hem or edge? What about the seams. Can you see the darker line they draw where the seams meet? Notice the folds and wrinkles. They create shadows and subtle color shifts in the fabric.
To cultivate Flow we should nurture both focused attention and multi-leveled interconnectedness. Buddhist monk and renowned meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh spoke often of these skills by asking us to see more deeply. Who are the people who made these garments? What conditions do we imagine they were working in as they weaved, cut and sewed the fabric? Whose attentive hands and knowledge grew the plants that turned into this cloth? How many different people were involved in its transport? Can we look deeper still into the sun and moonlight, rain and soil that nurtured the seeds that produced the plants? Does this novel way of seeing shift your awareness and concentration? I hope so.
Importance of Novelty
A novel travel experience to somewhere new and different from home can be genuinely enriching. This happens in large part because we are processing an infinite array of new sensory input, constantly evaluating novelty with every glance. Under good circumstances it is fun and exciting.
Novelty is also the wild card that makes a joke funny. If I say, “A man walks into a bar. He said, “Ouch.” You’ll probably groan a bit at the pun. Why? Because the bar in question isn’t the one you were expecting, causing you to experience a moment of novelty and surprise.
Novelty jolts our neurology into waking up and paying attention. When we perceive the world outside of our expectations or daily routines, the mind goes into an invigorating overdrive as our curiosity skyrockets.
Artists learn to shift their eyes from normal viewing to novelty seeing, and even the most mundane objects take on a new life.
Let’s go back to those artist’s eyes. If I asked you to draw a leaf shape, your brain might say, among other things, “I know what a leaf looks like.” From that brain image you could probably draw a simple outline of a leaf. But if I asked you to collect two leaves from a nearby plant and write a list of words to describe each, you now will have a completely different leaf experience. Your leaf relationship is now based on observing, comparing and contrasting. Again, you are seeing more deeply, fully and attentively.
If I asked you to observe a bouquet of flowers and count all the circles, lines, curves and dots you can see, that would be an artist’s eyes way of looking. You would be learning to view in a manner that is frequently taught in most beginners drawing classes. Instructors teach students to look for the basic geometric shapes that form all objects. Can you see the various rectangles, cones, triangles, circles, curves and dots that make up the things around you?
Breaking an object into its basic forms is similar to translating a line of poetry from a foreign language into your mother tongue. You experience it differently and more fully. More than one of my art teachers proclaimed their ability to teach anyone how to draw. It takes two things: practice and training your eyes to see differently.
We need to give our brains regular, daily novelty workouts because they increase our capacity to step into a flow mindset, at will. Training our eyes and mind to attend more fully expands our senses. You don’t have to book a flight to an expensive and exotic destination to begin.
In my next Fire and Flow Blog we’ll be exploring the novelty enhancing experience of synesthesia, specifically focusing on hearing colors and seeing sounds. Over the next week rustle up some inexpensive broad-tip colored markers and either flip-chart size paper or a stack of copy paper. The one other item you’ll need is a piece of music that moves you emotionally. This music may be one piece or several to play for at least twenty minutes in length. We won’t be making art, only scribbles and lines. No artistic ability needed for full and delightful participation.
So start seeing with your artist’ eyes and look more deeply. It is a wonderful Flow practice to cultivate daily.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton