Learning How to See

I looked out the window in my bedroom this morning and immediately saw the beauty of the various shades of green facing me.  Not only the soft sage of the curtains falling gracefully to the sides, and the deep forest green of the vase filled with magnolia leaves atop a minty green iron filigree table.

But outward even into the space beyond – the sun dappled leaves of the maples just starting to lose their dark green color, the feathery intensity of the Leyland Cypress trees and the thick needled pines, as well as the holly trees and bushes against the mossy color of the grass as the hours of sunlight each day have started fading fast.

All was a study in green.

In that instant I recalled the first day of art class in high school.  Our teacher informed us that he could instruct us on how to prime a canvas, hold a pencil vertically at arm’s length and run a thumb along it to judge the scale of things in the distance, and how to mix two colors to create a third.  But the most important lesson of all was not something he could ever teach us – how to see.

And yet, that is exactly what he did.

Carefully we dissected paintings and took sketch books into the fields, looking for the places where the light hit objects and brightened their facades.  We learned to look for the dark places – the shadows, the subtleties that made all of the difference.

And this morning it hit me that the same can be said for writing.  For what is worth reading that doesn’t have it’s dark and light, conflict, yin and yang?

We don’t enjoy a two-dimensional piece of writing any more than we appreciate a two-dimensional painting.  We want fully formed heroes and heroines.  We want to believe in their realism, even if the story happens in a fantasy futuristic world.

And now I know what writing teachers mean when they say that they can’t teach us how to write, but they can give us the bones of the craft.  They just can’t teach us how to see.  That is something we learn from life and experience.

When did you see something in a different light than you’d ever seen it before?

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  1. Loaded question, Renee.

    To take it at its literal meaning: I learnt to see the spectrum of almost black to white via all shades of blue on many many long walks pushing my sleeping baby’s pram for miles and miles. Along the promenade we lived close to. Looking across the sea into the horizon. The interplay of sea and sky. A full palette. Intense stuff. Certainly taught me how to look closely. Rather than fleetingly.

    And you are right: There is technique (which can be taught in any sphere) and then there is innate talent. And when the two meet it makes mere mortals weep; and the more practical craftsman recognizing he lacks a spark of genius will just get on with the job as best he can.


  2. When did you see something in a different light than you’d ever seen it before?

    The most profound one was just after I’d watched a skateboard tricks video (years ago).

    One of the skateboarders in the video explained how, when he passes by a hand rail or a block of steps, he sees all the different kinds of skateboard tricks he could perform there. He saw a playground, not a concrete grey landscape.

    The next time I went out and about for work, sat on the bus, I actually began to see a lot of the grey architecture around me in a new light.

    1. Your comment reminded me of skateboarders in California who didn’t have a skate park. They passed a vacant house with an empty swimming pool and voila! They saw the perfect bowl shape for boarding. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Through other bloggers, I’ve definitely learned about the beauty of “golden hour” and how much it adds to photography! Great post!

  4. Monet was a great seer…(in the prophetic sense) and a great painter for that reason…a LIGHT WATCHER, truly. In my life, the more wisdom I gained, the more I was able to appreciate metaphor, double-deep-triple-deep meanings. The more insight I gained, the more I was able to see how light and shadow impacted nature and people and the greater was my understanding of the colors they created. The more I recognized the shades (and the amount) of light and dark, the greater was my vision and appreciation of the colors of and in the world (nature, people, objects). But wisdom is what enlightened me to move beyond stick figures, two-dimensional views, cardboard comprehension. Thought inspiring post.

  5. Learning how to see is an amazing lesson. I took some art classes after I earned my MA in literature, ironically not wanting to read another thing. When our instructor told us to take our drawing pencil and draw without looking at the page, just let our hands “see” our subject, I discovered a whole new way of “seeing.” Great post. I think that’s why I enjoy visiting blogs with great and simple photographs, just to challenge me to really “see” as you say.

    1. And you have added a whole new level of seeing to the post. We take so much for granted that we don’t use all of our senses – hence the ability to let our hands ‘see’ . What a valuable lesson.

  6. You said it so rightly that, no one can teach others how to see things. But yes sometimes honest interaction with others and discussion with intelligent people helps a person to see things with a different perspective. I myself experienced that. After I started blogging and interacted with so many wonderful writers and photographers; it helped me to not only see things those are in front of my eyes but only to imagine people and situations thorough which different people have to go though. Great post Renee.

  7. “They just can’t teach us how to see.” Love that part. I began looking at objects with a different light when I got my first really good camera. I found myself searching for beauty in unexpected objects.

  8. It seems I have always seen things differently than others. It is hard to capture with a camera so I try to create the visual with words. I have found myself wrapped in other peoples words and wanted to be able to do the same. I try.

  9. I’ve learned so much from other bloggers — from you, I have never looked at a Harvest/Celtic moon quite the same. From Dianna, I’ve never looked at a sunrise or sunset like I do now and from Georgette, I’ll never get to page 17 and not think of her. I could go on and on.

    I’ve learned to see the gifts that other bloggers have oh-so-willingly offered to me, even when those standing nearby offered next to nothing.

    Wonderful piece!

    1. What a wonderful comment, MJ! We do learn from each other and the support is priceless. One of the many things I’ve learned from you is how to be graceful and grateful. You never cease to inspire.

  10. Great insight. Some writers have such a way of making me see what they see. Those are the authors that I read and read and read.

    1. That’s the beauty of marrying sight and insight to the innate gift for storytelling, don’t you think? Then, as you say, we never want the story to end. Well said!

  11. Well, I was going to comment on the post (loved it!), but after reading the comments, I have to say, I really like the phrase you used in one of your responses, “the beauty of marrying sight and insight.” I think that expression sums up everything you said, and the readers’ responses. That’s a rare gift indeed! ~ Sheila

    1. Ah, the beauty of comments! Sheila you have just made the case for the importance of commentary on our posts. Often the conversations that follow are more ‘insightful’ than the original piece. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      1. Yes, I like the conversation element of comments. I’m a talker, and definitely enjoy the give and take. I often have to stop myself from continuing the reply stream…not out of disinterest, but out of a realization that we all have limits to how much we can back and forth. Sometimes I just wish I could pick up the phone and have a real girl to girl talk when I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit! But it’s all good, right?! ~ Sheila

    1. You are indeed creative with words and photography. And that is art as much as any painting. I’ve accepted that my gift isn’t with a paint brush either – prefer the ink pen.

  12. Hi, Renee. I haven’t been by in a while. It’s always a balance between my own writing and blog writing. Such truth in the post. I think one of the best things about writing is that it makes a person a better observer. (or it should)

    1. Hi Barb. Yes, I have missed you. I stopped by your site several times and saw that you too were taking a much deserved break. I’ll be right over to check out your latest post. It’s good to hear that you have found balance. I’m still working on it. With a family, animals, and a full time job, it is hard to find time to write anything. But I get up early and give it my best shot. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Your post made me realize how much I missed out on in never taking art classes. I am so artistically challenged that just holding a pencil is a strain. But with my camera, I am learning to see the light and dark areas, and to try to find the proper balance between the too. And you are so correct about the art of writing. It too needs balance, texture, light & dark, shape, and all the things that go into a successful painting.

  14. What a thoughtful post. I could feel the inspiration you felt when you looked at the shades of green and remembered your art teacher’s fateful words, “how to see.” That’s a perfect expression, and you’re right, a lesson that can’t be taught. It has to come from within. I’d like to answer your question, as to when I first saw something in a different way, but I’m not sure I can. I’ve always been observant, so much so that my family used to play games on me. Change one thing in a room and see if I would find it — without their having told me they changed something. I guess for me, the biggest moment of “seeing” would have to be early on when my children were born (they’re 18 months apart). I had some help at first, but then was on my own, with my husband back to work, and 3,000 miles from my family. It was one of the most intense and beautiful times of my life, to see just how far a mother, how far I, would go to be there for her children, especially when my son needed his first two surgeries at 1 and 2 years old. Being pregnant for the first surgery, and then caring for a new baby during the second — I so often felt absolutely overwhelmed, and at the same time completely subsumed by gratitude that my children were happy and healthy. I remember sitting in the waiting rooms, each time, and seeing other parents go in for surgeries for their children, surgeries that were far more extensive than what my son needed. And that’s when it hit me that mothers always have more to give. I saw these mothers so drawn, so sunken, waiting up to 8 hours for a surgical procedure to finish (one had a child mere months old, who needed such a long procedure for surgery near his brain) — and when I saw her straighten up and come out of her almost coma, and ask me how I was feeling — it about killed me. We’re all the same, deep down under. And I saw that most clearly through her strength.

  15. This is a timely reminder for me and my writing–thank you. To your question…..I must reply that as my marriage ended, I looked at the relationship and found it to be remarkably different than I had thought. I realized later that I wasn’t looking at it. I was looking at what I wished it to be. Quite a bummer when I saw it with fresh eyes. But in the long run, that new view set the stage for better things to come 🙂

    1. Another powerful ‘vision’ reminder. Your posts are always full of insight and I think we see a Bella now that may never have blossomed into full bloom had the events not played out exactly as they did. Good things are indeed on their way to you.

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