Thoughts: Seeing Badly

grandmothers bible

I am having trouble seeing.

It’s not my eyesight. My eyesight is about what you would expect in a 60 year old man and it hasn’t changed much in the last decade.

No, I am talking about a different kind of seeing. The kind of seeing that helps me capture striking images with my camera and create vibrant images with my painting.

I haven’t done much photography or painting recently, and that’s why. I am living the same kind of life I normally live. I am doing mostly the same things. I have an average amount of stress in life, maybe even less than normal. Nothing much has changed. And yet, where I used to see photographs everywhere, I am not anymore. Where I used to have inspiration for paintings, I am not any longer.

I am still taking pictures and they are hopelessly home-brew snapshots, no magic, no “pop”, no “isn’t that interesting.” And I’ve done some really, really bad art recently. A lot of good paper and canvas has died in my bout of blindness.

It’s not the first time this has happened to me, but it’s been a long time now, years and years since I have been this dry. I’ve had a good run. I have probably come to count on inspiration. For me, it has been like manna, always there when I needed it. I stopped thinking about it and just let it flow. Spoiled rotten. That’s been me.

Over the last couple of years, I have studied seeing. I have talked to artists, business leaders, pastors, writers, always asking them how they came to see the things that made their art. I compared it to what I did. It’s been a great learning curve and fascinating. I’ve thought about creating a course on learning to see. I think it would be fascinating. And I do think it’s something we can learn.

But sometimes, knowledge of how to do something is not enough. Sometimes something clicks off and suddenly it’s not there. I know the rules of seeing, how in art we think one way, and as photographer we think another. I know all that stuff, all the techniques, all of it. And I can (and have) thought my way through using all the things I know and still….. flatlined.

Others might not see it that way. Perhaps some people would look at my recent drawings and photographs and think they are OK. Maybe even pretty good. I don’t know. I am not the best judge of my own work.

But I do know this – in my mind everything I have produced image wise has been flat, lifeless, lacking a certain energy.

It will pass. I know this. If you keep putting yourself in inspiration’s way, inspiration will wash over you again. That’s what habits are for. That’s what discipline is for. To keep at it until the energy comes back. The good stuff comes to he who sticks with it. Persistence matters as much at talent, I have learned. Maybe more.

But it is frustrating. I have been spoiled for years now with this unending flow of energy of ideas, of being able to see something amazing in something ordinary, of being able to see a painting after the first couple of strokes, of knowing. And for the last little while, there has been no flow. Just the work.

It will pass. And maybe there is something good in it. This dry period is a reminder of how wonderful it is when the manna flows. I am full of gratitude that I’ve had such a long run without a dry spell. And when I can see again, I will do a little dance. You might hear me sing a bit of the Alleluia Chorus, or the refrain of “Elegantly Wasted.” I hope I am not in public when it happens. It might be a little embarrassing.

But that’s OK. That’s another thing about being 60 – I don’t embarrass as easily as I used to. But heaven help whoever might be with me at the time.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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