Seeing to Come Together: Inspired by Kiley Bense’s “How Learning to Draw can Help a Writer to See”

Graphite on paper by way of the digital world

Still of Day 287

The Creative Meanderings #6: The Joys of Potent, Tiny Details

When we view art…we are climbing beneath the layers, into the skin, of our diverse human experience

Sometimes the world of art seems removed, full of open and empty rooms with quiet work waiting on walls. Sometimes the world of art seems harsh, fast and reactive with no time to process. Sometimes art seems biased, trapped in the money and past of its origins. 

In these instances, the question “Is art important?” seems a necessary one. In these instances lies the answer: yes. Art, in all its forms, in all its times, embodies the nature of humans as we relate to each other and how these relations make up these cultures we call home. 

When we interact with art, we exist, for a moment, within layers of the time and self, of imagination and creation, of corruption and kindness that have influenced the artist and viewers alike. Art is a conduit through which we capture and preserve our imaginations and observations, experiences and stories.

While observing art, we can step inside each other’s stories: climb into the skin of someone else, climb beneath the layers of another world. Perhaps this is empathy, that process of “vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience” of another person. 

In the space within art and empathy our feelings are called to action as we find the connection commonality has to offer. Whether the feelings are those of comfort or unsettlement or something in between, through these emotions and through art we may find a kind of compassion. Soon the passive act of observation becomes one of action, the act of seeing. 

Really seeing art, similar to really seeing and experiencing our lives, is a process of noticing details: the fleeting, sometimes unnoticeable moments, as they accumulate, make up our lives. Similarly, skillful art can translate vast things into small details, details that express a story or history in a single gaze or touch of shadow.

As writer and editor Kiley Bense, in her article for Literary Hub “How Learning to Draw can Help a Writer to See” writes,

“The details that leap out to you won’t be the same as the ones that stand out to others, because when you observe, you do so through the lens of your memories and knowledge, preferences and emotions.”

When we view art, we do not only view the pigment, the subject, the artist’s intent, we also view our own minds.

When we view art, when we let ourselves be affected by it, we learn to absorb the details and nuances of the life and world around us. 

When we view art —whether it be a still life painted in a quiet house, an exploration of emotion, a rebellion against convention, a commentary on injustice, or a portrait capturing a face lost to time—we are climbing beneath the layers, into the skin, of our diverse human experience.

Creative Prompt: Five Minutes on the Subtlety of Observation
  1. Observe something or someone for five minutes (if you choose to observe someone, respect their privacy and space—in other words, don’t be creepy).
  2. Record your observations in sketches or written descriptions.
  3. From your observations, choose a few small details about the subject, details that express something about the subject’s character or nature or the situation they were experiencing.
  4. Express your observations. Either write three paragraphs, estimate about 100 words, or draw either a very realistic or completely abstract representation.
  5. Share your observation. If you share via Instagram or other social media sites use the hashtag #cogneyezant.