Learning to See Part 1

Armand Cabrera

We shall never cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to come back to the place we started and know that place for the first time.

TS Elliott

Much of an artist’s struggle is spent learning to see.  What does learning to see mean and how does one go about learning to see as an artist does? I hope to give some understanding into the process by offering some insights, defining some terminology and suggesting some ways to practice to improve an artist’s ability to see.

Let’s start by describing the process of seeing for an artist.
 Seeing is a way of organizing a visual idea so it can be recreated as an image that instantly conveys to a viewer the artist’s intent.

To see, for this purpose, an artist must participate in what I call active viewing. Active viewing is viewing something with the goal of using it to help in the creation of a creative work. 

It is consciously studying the inspiration for the idea and through selection and elimination deciding the elements of the image and their design and placement within the picture plane.

It is a heightened state of awareness that allows the artist to continue to feel the experience of the source of inspiration while also deconstructing it for the creation of a painting or drawing. It is observing one’s self while the self is experiencing something.

This process requires organization, placing a hierarchy to the elements in terms of visual importance for emotional impact.

 In drawing it is arranging the key of the of the image, the specific lights and darks of a range of values and the level of detail the elements will need to be effective. It also includes way the marks are placed on the paper and deciding on the relationship of the 2 dimensional shapes and their edges.

In painting you would include everything the drawing has but also include the color key of the piece and the relationship of all the colors of the individual elements as well. Besides the calligraphy of the marks and shape sand edges, the levels of thick and thin paint should also be considered.

To do this requires many things, first and foremost it requires the ability to draw and paint competently. This means an understanding of value and color as it relates to image making. It means being able to make the marks you want to make when you want to make them with as few errors in execution as possible.

Technically, active viewing is bending the constraints of the artists medium and the artists ability in service of the idea for the image. When done right the artist not only conveys the idea but creates a visual prosody for the viewer, actually allowing them to share in the same feelings the artist experienced at the time the artist was inspired. There is no more powerful form of communication when this is successful.

Next week part 2, Ways to Practice

Images in order of appearance from top to bottom Wilhelm kuhnert, Jack Lorimer Gray, Gunnar Widforss,
Juana Romani, James D. Harding, Hovsep Pushman, John Joseph Enniking, Edgar Payne, and Cecilia Beaux

3 thoughts on “Learning to See Part 1

  1. Very excited for this series of posts. Any help that can accompany sheer tenacity is appreciated. The most frustrating thing for me as a beginner is not being able to translate what I'm looking at into lines and values that describe a whole on a piece of paper. Thank you!

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