Monday, July 29, 2013

Labels - The Beginning of Non-Seeing

    I taught art to elementary children for many years.  It would always disturb me to see the the alphabet posters hung around the classroom.  A is for Apple...and there would be a picture of a nice red apple.  Forget the fact that not all apples are red or perfectly shaped for that was, for me, the start of "non-seeing" in my students.  They were beginning to label things and in so doing, they started to see the label and not the object. 

   As contemplative photographers, we must be ever cautious of falling into the trap of labels.  It is the single most important impediment to perception.  When you label something you cease to look at it.  It is a thing, familiar and unobserved.  A friend was relating to me recently how her 18 month old grandson would walk around the house and point at things, anything, and gasp with delight.  Everything was new and surprising and unlabeled.  If we could only keep some of that delight as we mature!  Trying to see as a very young child sees is a gift and a skill I try to practice but it's not easy. My head is full of labels!

   I was reminded of this while I was on Monhegan.  On many mornings the island was wrapped in fog.  It obliterated detail.  That is what labels do to perception.  It obscures the reality around us to an astonishing degree.  The painter Monet once said that to really begin to paint you must first forget the names of everything and see it only as shape and tone and color.  That's how my friends grandchild sees.  Everything is just startling shapes and colors.  His perception is as heightened as it will ever be. Now, if I could just get him to hold a camera....


Andy Ilachinski said...

Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Gregory Bateson: “The division of the perceived universe into parts and wholes is convenient and may be necessary, but no necessity determines how it shall be done," and one of my earliest blog posts:

Patricia Turner said...

Thank you Andy...insightful as usual and I hope people read your wonderful post!