Windows, Art, & Seeing
Sizes of individual windows can vary enormously. So can their proportions. And while their shape is more often than not rectangular, they can just as easily be any shape you can imagine; square, circular, triangular, or even wildly lopsided.
Whether tall and narrow or wide and squat, a window fulfills a service difficult to imagine living without. For as different as they might be in appearance, all windows share a common quality. They allow light into rooms and, in nearly every case, make it possible for a room’s occupant to see out.
Still, windows have some qualities not universally recognized.
Whenever I’m at the kitchen sink, the window opening onto the backyard affords a relatively unobstructed view. My familiarity with the scene, however, ends up imposing some easily overlooked limitations. In fact I’m often deluded into thinking I’m seeing more than I am. I gaze through the window, I see the familiar framed view, and without much thought or consideration, I use memory and imagination to fill out and embellish what is before me. Although I’m seeing only part of the backyard, I’m feeling and experiencing it as a whole, or at least as much I can remember.
But there’s another way of looking through that window.
If I consciously suspend my conditioned responses, even for just a few minutes, the window begins presenting me with some tantalizing possibilities. In fact, one of the limitations imposed by the window, the limited view, can actually entice me to focus, look deeper, and begin seeing without the aid of conditioned memory.
When I move my body a few feet to the left, the dusty red tool shed slides across my view until it vanishes stage left. Now I’m presented with a framed expanse of green lawn backed by unruly woods. When I then move several feet to the right, the tool shed again slides into view but is now accompanied by the neighbor’s pickup truck parked in their driveway. This often makes me smile because from this vantage point the truck seems about to be engulfed by the surrounding untamed leafy vines.
What vastly different feelings these three views evoke. Yet if I was standing outside in the yard, those views would be as one, an inseparable whole.
That very same window, then, can provide either a viewport to casually peruse the backyard, or a focused looking glass through which mesmerizing vignettes are revealed.
So what on earth has this got to do with art?
To my mind an artist’s work functions as a series of metaphorical windows. On one hand the artwork can be approached and viewed at its face value, a simple or complex conglomeration of colors, shapes, and constructs. And of course at this level everything is so simple and so easily judged, liked, or dismissed.
The interaction goes something like this.
“Nup, next. God I’m bored. Give me another hit! Okay, that one’s passable. Next.”
And on it goes.
Alternatively, and much like the engaging vignettes a window can offer, artworks can be seen as framing ideas, sensibilities, and perceptions. They nudge us towards an open psychic place where we might, just might, see aspects of the world in a new and possibly liberating light. And it doesn’t matter one iota what the artwork’s style might be. We’re not talking about categories here, we’re talking about essence.
If a particular artwork evolves from an inspired and passionate vision, and the artist gave both heart and soul to its creation, it most assuredly deserves our serious contemplation. And that contemplation should be something much greater than the usual three-nanosecond glance most would give.
Answer this honestly: when it comes to art, do you have strong likes and dislikes? No need to squirm, most people do. While being true to your inner sensitivities and aesthetics is an act of honoring yourself, to walk a truly honest path you must also take the time to examine those tastes in a clear light. Search out and discover what percentage of your opinions has arisen from a field of unacknowledged biases and conditioning.
“Yikes! I am biased and conditioned!” you say.
If that’s the case, then start afresh.
Next time you’re standing before a piece of artwork, give yourself some inner emotional space. Feel your way into the artwork without indulging in quick dismissals. When you feel resistance and judgment coming up, do your best to let them wash over and through you. Just let them go. Honor the artist’s vision by resisting the impulse to immediately classify the work. If you succumb to such pigeonholing you’re effectively slamming the door on any possibility of seeing beyond your normal, safe, and most likely, limited viewpoint.
To get yourself out of the prejudgment rut, ask yourself some questions. What was the artist trying to say or express? What is it this work is encouraging me to see differently? These colors, textures, and shapes, what’s their point and what emotions or sensibilities are they moving me towards?
Once you possess even a partial understanding of the artist’s intent, you can then more safely allow your inner tastes and sensitivities a freer reign. With their aid you can now, with far less prejudice, find out if in your eyes the artwork is noteworthy, and if it has something to say to you personally.
Any artwork born in a state of passionate, heightened awareness is a window opening onto a unique facet of life. And because of this uniqueness, it can serve as an opportunity for the viewer to step beyond the limits of their own conditioned seeing.