"One thing struck me as odd and interesting. A gesture drawing took forty-five seconds; a Sustained Study took all morning. From any still-life arrangement or model's pose, the artist could produce either a short study or a long one. Evidently, a given object took no particular amount of time to draw; instead the artist took the time, or didn't take it, at pleasure. And similarly, things themselves possessed no fixed and intrinsic amount of interest; instead things were interesting as long as you had attention to give them. How long does it take to draw a baseball mitt? As much time as you care to give it. Not an infinite amount of time, but more time than you first imagined. For many days, so long as you want to keep drawing that mitt, and studying that mitt, there will always be a new and finer layer of distinctions to draw out and lay in. Your attention discovers - seems thereby to produce - an array of interesting features in any object, like a lamp."
"Artists ... noticed the things that engaged the mind's private and idiosyncratic interior, that area where the life of the senses mingles with the life of the spirit: the shattering of light into color, and the way it shades off round a bend. The humble attention painters gave to the shadow of a stalk, or the reflected sheen under a chin,or the lapping layers of strong strokes, included and extended the scientists' vision of each least thing as unendingly interesting. But artists laid down the vision in the form of beauty bare - Man Walking [Giacometti] - radiant and fierce, inexplicable, and without the math."
why these long quotes? because it's annie dillard! (and she is exquisite and surgical in her descriptions.)
these quotes because i think a lot about (and read a lot about) paying attention, focus, technology, time, speed, energy, being human, slowing down. so that we can see. and (re)connect. with ourselves, firstly. then with others. then with the rest of the beautiful, intricate, mysterious world around us.
i recall an art school 3-d (of all classes to mention in this post!) assignment redolent of the dichotomy of beautiful - ugly, natural - man-made. it was chicago in the late 80s, the late days of industrial/goth/post-punk - all genres i was enthralled with/entrenched in at the time. all my peers were, for the most part, devotees of same. the assignment was to bring in 2 objects - one we found beautiful, another we found ugly. absolutely! subjective opinions. yet, lo and behold, as though we had called each other the night before (and this is not very likely to have happened, because art students do not, by definition, communicate as effortlessly and commonly as regular folk), as we reveal our choices sitting around in a circle, the majority of us chose a natural object to represent beauty and a man-made object for its opposite qualifier. leaves vs. plastic. speckled sand vs tupperware. a feather vs a briefcase.
i know the opposite may hold true; we have evolved to refinement, after all. we are, after all, no longer 18-year-old irascible art students. a paperclip can hold beauty, as can a perfectly-crafted shoe. ma-made can be beautiful.
independently of each other, about 20 sullen 18-year-olds deep in the throes of hardcore music and urban nihilism mutually agreed - in their deepest interior, in their heart of hearts - that natural trumps man-made. that, unencumbered of progress and civilization and cultural relevance, sticks, and stones, and feathers, and leaves are to be qualified as unreservedly beautiful.
annie dillard invites the reader to remember to look. and to be still. and to record.
whether one becomes an artist or not is moot. what matters is the practice of seeing. and internalizing. perhaps even cataloging. the opposite of these actions is inarticulate chaos.
who cares if the average attention span has decreased by 4 seconds in 12 years?
how can you capture the beauty of a child saying, after observing the reflection of irregular raindrops on a shiny surface, "i wish we could wrap this up and give it as a gift"?
(what) do we stop to see? and record? if for no reason other than to still the cacophony of modernity and (re)connect with our feeling/sensing/perceiving/thinking selves, which always (silently) await our return home?