Before we can even begin analyzing something, regardless of what, we need to understand how we see, interpret and understand what we see.
It’s a bit tricky, and easy to stumble about on this topic, so let’s see if we can get started with some basic understanding of the process of seeing.
I’m not going into the specifics on how the eye works. That’s boring and way too technical for my abstract way of thinking/seeing/understanding the world. Instead, let’s dive into a more philosophical way to understanding the process of seeing.
First of all, I’d like to bring up something that doesn’t necessarily belong in theorizing about art and literature (but it does!), but is very, very relevant nonetheless.
Namely; the agreements on what the world looks like. And I mean this literally – that the sky is blue (is it?), that concrete is ugly (is it?), that boys and girls are physically different, how to ride a bike, that education is important, et cetera. There are endless agreements between people, that provides shape and form to our reality. And while we’re at it; these agreements also touch on more abstract things such as culture, religion, politics, et cetera.
Basically, anything and everything that helps us make sense of the chaos we experience in this world.
Now, these agreements begin building up in our conciousness the moment we’re born. We inherit most of our view of the world from our parents as babies and toddlers. These agreements expand as we grow older, make friends, start school, experience and learn new things away from home. Altogether, these experiences, the knowledge and all these agreements that we collect through the years, create a foundation on which we build our idea of what the world is, should be, our own place in it, and so on.
Now, being aware of what we see, how we see it, and what we do with that, is basic for just about anything. If we don’t understand what we see, the world would be one scary place. And this goes way beyond art and literature. Knowing how we at first learn about the world from parents, extended family, friends, school, teachers et cetera, to then forming our own views, helps to keep our eyes open. Awareness on how we are affected by what we see helps us to not stagnate. Taking the easy way out is to lock ourselves into one path only, refusing to see other perspectives.
Which is of course why art, the abstract and the philosophical is so important. It helps us widen our horizon and expand our minds.
Let’s take a look at some variables I find important when it comes to how we see, percieve, interpret and understand.
First of all, we do the actual, physical seeing. At least when we talk about looking at things, at people, at events. A rather interesting question worth to be raised just here is; do we need a language to understand what we see?
One point worth mentioning here is; everything is relative. We understand one thing by compairing it to something else. An elephant is larger than a squirrel. The sunlight is brighter than moonlight. Numbers in statistics are good or bad depending on perspective.
Once we see something, it’s time to understand what it is. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Our ability to understand is based on said agreements, and the knowledge/understanding we have already acquired. Hopefully, for most people, we learn, expand and evolve through our entire lives. Sadly, some people get stuck. Whether it be due to lack of interest, personal beliefs or just plain stupidity, I cannot say.
Now, while none of what I’m writing about today has much to do with the grotesque, I still find it extremely important to discuss this awareness of how we percieve – everything, be it abstract or reality. Being aware of how we percieve the world, not only art and other abstracts, helps us learning about ourselves and gives us very effective tools to expand and grow as people.
And trust me, that’s really worth something.
So why am I bringing this up?
Because analyzing art is based on seeing. Because analyzing art is done through the physical act of looking at something, as well as through theorical perspectives and different methods. Awareness, knowledge and understanding the process of actively looking at something is everything. Well, no, perhaps not everything, but it makes a damn good start. And without it, we got nothing – so, yes, it’s bloody important, it is.
Furthermore, said awareness also lends some objectivity. In my opinion, it’s impossible for any human being to be objective – we can’t help but interpret/understand what we see through the filter of our earlier agreements and knowledge. There is no truth, only perspectives and interpretations.
I sometimes say that I try my best to think in a constantly moving 360 degree circle. It’s true. To get a fuller idea of just about anything, I find it extremely important to consider as many perspectives as possible.