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Towards a Reinvigoration of Seeing: Painting as a Way

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Neuroscience in more recent times has shone a light on  the incredible capacity of the human brain to adapt and relearn by stimulating old pathways and lighting  new ones.

Our survival over millennium depended on  physical and mental agility, on heightened sensory abilities such as touch, hearing, seeing and importantly  the capacity to retrain and improve those attributes. While humans have evolved with limited  sensory capacities compared to  other animals in the evolutionary chain, it could also be said that the  modern era of multi faceted visual stimulation has desensitised  and accelerated that process. Nevertheless, we as a species  continue to strive to understand and improve all our facilities and  our position in the unfolding story of our planet.

Human sight varies enormously from person to person not just in a physical way  but  through the  subjective mind.   The subjective mind  takes control and defines what we see  according to what we know about that thing, not what we actually see. In other words, what we see is imbued with our own experience.  We know that if we were to pick up a bottle we would find it cold with hard edges all around. But is this what we really see? Looking and experiencing with an invigorated eye  the bottle looks completely different  because of the way light falls on it, making  parts of the bottle  blend in with the background, thus  it is only partly visible.

To unlock this subjective view an exercise in the form of  a meditation between the painter, the subject and the canvas allows sight to be expanded to new dimensions.  The meditation provides a communion and an intimacy creating a beautiful song celebrating seeing something as if for the first time.

I call this meditation the 'look and put method', in which seventy-five percent of the time on a painting is spent in the practice of careful objective observation.

To do this we must step away from our subject and the canvas and take time to observe by squinting our eyes, so we can just see the subject in terms of darks and lights or tonal patches. By using the breath as we do in meditation we slow down the mind. Now, we relax and simply see what we are looking at, purely as tonal patches either dark or light. We do not name the objects in front of us, we do not see them as a subject but see them as a series of tonal patches in a particular position in the space of the canvas.

Learn more about the human brain’s incredible capacity to adapt and relearn by stimulating old pathways and lighting  new ones.

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