The Art Show I've Always Wanted To Do...

Monday, February 20, 2017
I love color. I always have. I believe the way we see things and perceive color and light is the primary foundation of our relationship with the world around us. People often ask how I am able to "see" so many different colors in my subjects. Simple. I choose to look differently at them.

I enjoy the "fact" that a dog is "brown(ish)" but also, when drenched in afternoon sun he is also a full spectrum of lush hues--IF you choose to see him that way. From a distance or in the shade, subjects seem even more colored by atmospheric conditions. From afar, a bluish haze drapes distant mountains, for instance.

I offer Exhibit A for Your consideration, Your Honor:

Exhibit B: What color is this dog from far away?
The vista and this dog look a little darker, the tones appear duller from far away. Still, I think you could still decide that you see a brown n' white dog.

What if you only got to see this? What would you "know" about this dog?

Both literally and metaphorically speaking, the dog you observe is defined by how you see it. More importantly, what you see (the entire picture or partial view) of it and/or the context in which you see it. This is simplistic, I know, but bear with me, Your Honor, I bring you my next example.
We can all agree that this is a lovely black and white photo. If you squint a little, you might see things a little fuzzier, like this:
Still black and white but your certainty of what you see is ever so slightly fuzzied. That's ok. It's alright to squint and investigate every once in a while.
Try it
This is an amazing photograph of an ancient tree taken by Beth Moon. Thank you, Interwebs, for delivering this to me this morning. Now let's say this ancient tree represents our collective "wisdom". It's been around for a long time. It's seen everything! Let's look closer at what this tree is made of, what it "knows". Each block is a closer zoom into the photo.

The last square, the single color, represents the individual perspective. It's "colored" by ideas, experience, beliefs, etc. In variations of light it also appears quite differently.

Same color, different filters
Now let's investigate another scene from nature that's not quite so easy to look at for some folks. Other people, of the carnivorous persuasion I imagine, find this tableau delightful.
Now, let's look at something from the world of people that some folks don't like to see. Look a little closer and you will see that it too is made up of many colors:

And another human image with an emotional charge for many of us:

Or another that image that may have a little controversial associations. 

When we decide to label something "fair or unfair" "right or wrong" we are figuratively  reducing to a black and white perspective. It is or it aint. End of discussion.

Sometimes, it is necessary and useful to do this, especially for legal definition, argument or practicality's sake. 

Using our rebellious dog as an example, if it were lost and you were frenziedly describing it to a neighbor, it would probably be more useful to describe its fur as "chocolate brown" instead of "deep umbers undulating with a rainbow of chartreuse and fuchsia". To my way of thinking both descriptions would be accurate, but only one would be useful in the situation. 

However, once rescuing said dog and painting him, his portrait would probably look something like this. Same dog, different situation.

The point is there is a time for black and white, literal, concrete thinking. There is a time to embrace the poetic, relative, abstract and nuanced aspects of life as well. Both are wings of the same bird. You need both to fly.

The time has come, I think, to also embrace the possibility of seeing things both ways, or all ways, just as a matter of practice. I would call this "curious seeing". As in, taking a pause and instead of declaring  (or yelling) what you see is or aint (and subsequently marinating in similar information/points of view to strengthen your confirmation bias) decide to squint a little and see if there aren't more parts to it than what you are conditioned to see. Just be a little curious and not quite so sure just for moment. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega in this experiment. That is all there is to it. 

Originally I had plans to do an entire show of "black and white" paintings in a spacious gallery with enough room to see from afar. My current fantasy is to have a super large mural somewhere that visually demonstrates this "curious seeing" concept writ large.  

I think the tree would be a great subject. From far away you'd see this massive, archetypal world tree that appeared black and white. As you got closer and looked at it you would see that it was, in fact, full of color and nuance. That, depending on your perspective, you were in fact seeing something arguably black and white and also brimming with color simultaneously. You just choose which view you prefer. Maybe you like it a little gray with soothing, deep-toned neutrals and cozy pastels. Your choice. Move closer. That is the idea. It would require people to move around a little to achieve different perspectives and conclusions. I like the idea of that.

This is not an argument for relativistic thinking. It's just an invitation to occasionally decide to be curious and perhaps to see things in a new way. For those with an agenda of being "right" it is tantamount to sacrilege to even suggest that there may be more nuance to the debate than convenient talking points. It seems Everyone is so sure that what they "see" is "true" that they assume the other person is either dumb or evil (stupid or a liar) for not bearing witness to the same fixed perspective. 

Is it possible that person isn't so crazy...or evil...or certain...or wrong...or racist...or get the idea. Maybe there is more to the picture than what you assume? 

In his "Reality Bubble", author Scott Adams describes: "Einstein's great insight was assuming that reality was not fixed, and that everything was relative to the observer. If the observer moves at nearly the speed of light, not only does reality appear different, it actually is different. You would literally age at a different rate than your twin that stayed in place relative to you. We don't notice the differences in our tiny, slow moving life. But it's there. The universe simply doesn't exist as a single objective reality. It's smeared all over the place.

I've extended that thinking to people. Let's imagine for the sake of my new theory that people are always rational within their own reality. It only seems as if they are not because we all live in our own bubble of reality, with our own rules of what makes sense. Within any given bubble, everything is perfectly rational and logical and all the dots connect. It's only when you try to send an argument from one bubble to another that the logic breaks down".

Or, as he more recently observed "I was thinking about this because I know a couple who are the most judgmental people I have ever known. I can't imagine sharing an honest opinion with either of them, and I'm sure no one else does either. As a result, the two of them have created a weird bubble of misinformation from which to view the world. For all practical purposes, they exist in a parallel universe where they are "normal" and the rest of the world continues to worsen. Do people consider you judgy? If so, everything you know about people is probably wrong because people don't trust you with the truth."

I think the primary function of art, of any stripe, is to reveal other perspectives. Inviting, luring, prodding, invoking, challenging, lulling and driving each other into other dimensions of perception is what we are here for as artists.

Sometimes things are hidden and must be dragged up from the darkness--in the way a song can make you realize the depth of your feelings. It could be a simple matter of an essay speaking from an unfamiliar voice. A cartoon can cut through the ridiculous Gordian Knot of current political thought. 

My point is, I feel like all the current hootin', hollerin', n' finger pointin' is not only counterproductive but increasingly dangerous. No one says you have to drop all your sturm und drung but perhaps take a short breather and instead of choosing apathy or ferocity try curiosity. You might like it.


  1. Interesting Direction to the Possible Perspectives that should be considered.

    1. Thank you. I think it's important to create a pattern break where people can have an experience that would introduce a little doubt about their tribal thinking. Also, it helps just observing the reality that a subject can not only have many parts to it but that it also is many things simultaneously.