One Year Later Part 3: The End

Acrylic on canvas

A project is nearly born, only a few more words, a few more strokes of brush on canvas, and CognEYEzant will be finished. Finished.

This week, as I sat down to write and reflect on the end of this gargantuan, year-long project CognEYEzant, I realized that something inexplicable followed me: the concept and word “vastness”. Exactly one year ago, I postulated that we could find the humanity within each other if we just looked into one another’s eyes. And then, as soon as I began CognEYEznat, I realized just how vast humanity was. 

As I sat there, in a puddle of reflection, I knew that no matter how much I used the word and felt pulled to its concept, I could not put a name to this “vastness”. At an utter loss for words, I looked around the room, feeling for the inspiration I had staged around me. My eyes landed on the yellow spine of, a rather large, book tucked into one of the many piles that were scattered about me. Maria Popova’s book “Figuring” called to me with its unread pages and I picked it up and began to read.

Within moments, goosebumps formed along my arms, for, in the first two sentences, Popova captured and untangled the “vastness”—the humanness— I had felt and searched for,

“All of it—the rings of Saturn and my father’s wedding band, the underbelly of the clouds pinked by the rising sun, Einstein’s brain bathing in a jar of formaldehyde, every grain of sand that made the glass that made the jar and each idea Einstein ever had, the shepherdess singing in the Rila mountains of my native Bulgaria and each one of her sheep, every hair on Chance’s velveteen dog ears and Marianne Moore’s red braid and the whiskers of Montaigne’s cat, every translucent fingernail on my friend Amanda’s newborn son, every stone with which Virginia Woolf filled her coat pockets before wading into the River Ouse to drown, every copper atom composing the disc that carried arias aboard the first human-made object to enter interstellar space and every oak splinter of the floorboards onto which Beethoven collapsed in the fit of fury that cost him his hearing, the wetness of every tear that has ever been wept over a grave and the yellow of the beak of every raven that has ever watched the weepers, every cell in Galileo’s fleshy finger and every molecule of gas and dust that made the moons of Jupiter to which it pointed, the Dipper of freckles constellating the olive firmament of a certain forearm I love and every axonal flutter of the tenderness with which I love her, all the facts and figments by which we are perpetually figuring and reconfiguring reality—it all banged into being 13.8 billion years ago from a single source, no louder than the opening note of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, no larger than the dot levitating over the small i, the I lowered from the pedestal of ego. How can we know this and still succumb to the illusion of separateness, of otherness?”

As I read Popova’s words, I began to realize that the “vastness” was simply another term for being human, something we all experience but don’t necessarily know how to explain. As I read Popova’s words, I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I could never truly express “humanity”; in order to do that, I would need to translate every person and each one of their thoughts and feelings and experiences, and I would need to remember history and even a time before humans existed. 

In the last 365 days, I found inspiration in each passing moment because I learned to look at each moment as a beginning. If this moment hurt, I knew another moment would come along and chase this one away. As the moments clung to one another, I wondered if art might be a collection of our beginnings, of our attempts to understand and explain humanity to each other.

One year ago, I thought that by looking at a person in the eye, you could “learn about the complex, infinite, and very human nature within each of us.” Back then, I knew that a glance was only scratching the surface and I thought I could dive beneath their surface with art. But a few portraits into the project, I realized that it was impossible to capture someone in an image, instead I realized I was only capturing a moment. So I searched for stories to go along with the eyes—the art— but a person is made up of many stories and cannot be known by only one. 

Though I felt disgruntled, I persisted and made one piece of art each day, beginning again and again. And then, midway through CognEYEzant, I dove into a nourishing solitude. Within this daily rhythm of reflection and contemplation, I found the inspiration and courage to continue when weariness came my way.

Collecting my inspiration and thoughts into essays, I wrote of art and insight and history, of time and chance and perceptions. The essays wore away at the meaning of CognEYEzant and it was in this time, in these essays, that I found a new meaning for CognEYEzant that looking someone in the eyes, experiencing a piece of art, hearing a story, is just a beginning. And perhaps all we can do is begin again and again. 

Humanity and self and history cannot be captured in a single image or glance. Instead, glances which turn into looks, which turn into questions, capture self and humanity and then capture history. Each moment that passes us by, each person and piece of art we pass by, or create in turn, is a beginning: an opportunity to challenge our perspectives and perceptions, to ask questions, to expand and grow and change, an opportunity to meet someone else’s humanity with our own, for how can we, as Popova wrote, “succumb to the illusion of separateness, of otherness?

In the last few moments of CognEYEzant, as I look back at a year of eyes, I know that I am just beginning, beginning to make art and ask questions and write. Beginning to understand that the end of CognEYEzant is just the beginning. 

Now it’s your turn: begin, one moment, one eye at a time.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who’s loyally followed CognEYEzant. To the people who made my art and writing part of their balanced breakfast, to the people who discovered my art and writing by chance, to everyone who took the time to look.

My work on CognEYEzant inspired many projects to come: classes and workshops, websites and articles, artworks and stories. If you want to be updated regularly, you can sign up for email updates, I’d love you to join me in the rest of this journey.

365 days done, 0 to go.