Seeing and Looking

Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley describes her mother thus: “She was always pointing out colours: in the sea; the sparkle of dew: changes of colour when the dew was brushed away. If she arranged anything on the table like a bowl of fruit […] she would point out the colours. ‘Look it’s almost got a blue on it.’ She wasn’t a painter, she was a ‘looker’. The pleasure that one could get from looking was part of her personality.” Riley’s mother and I have this in common. Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real, just opened at Parasol Unit in London, is an exhibition irresistible to lookers, because they are made to feel important – more important, perhaps, than they actually are – rewarded, intrigued and thwarted by looking, and looking long.

This wonderful quote is from a review of the referenced show by Laura McLean-Ferris. As the phrase goes, most people with eyes can see, but a smaller subset has the ability to look.

A few one-liners on this same topic:

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. (Henri Bergson)

Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. (Jonathan Swift)

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. (Henry David Thoreau)

Sight is a faculty; seeing is an art. (George Perkins Marsh)

A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears. (Gertrude Stein)

And one more addendum to this, more a comment on being seen than on seeing: Deborah Sontag of New York Times recently highlighted the late in life success of Carmen Herrera. She sold her first painting at age 89. Now, at 94, she is being heralded as the talent she has been for years.

4 Replies to “Seeing and Looking”

  1. Yes – i am with you on this – seeing is such a special activity where the specifics present themselves like poetry on a page; or even when a perception proves to be elusive and requires a turning of the head, or the shutting of the eye to trick the phenomenon back into being. What a gift to be given, and what a gift to share – this slowing down from the frenetic activity of being.

    The best of Christmases to you and yours, Deborah. G

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by G. You have been a continual source of enrichment to me over the last few years. Blessings to all in your life.

  3. When I was in my ’20s (how long ago that was!) and would sit in the gallery of my friend and look at art with him all afternoon, I began to understand how it is the looking, looking, and more looking that begin to open the eyes to seeing. I’ve never wanted to close my eyes since. At least not in the way I closed them before I’d met my friend.

    “. . . When you really look deeply at something, it becomes part of you. . . It is a starling truth that how you see and what you see determine how and who you will be. . . .” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

  4. Maureen, What a wonderful quote from the late and much missed John O’Donohue. He spoke eloquently about our relationship with beauty, how it impacts the quality of our lives. Thanks so much for this.

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