As social media likes to dredge up the memories we committed to the internet, it reminded me today of a very nice and not so distant one. Two years ago, I finished and gave my dad a portrait of his birth mother, Edith. Neither of us had the chance to meet her – she passed two days after he was born. Regardless, I know she was a large influence for him.
Looking at this photo today made a few gears start turning and compelled me to write.
In a recent post, I described the act of creating as the practice of seeing, observing and translating. I left out one detail I think many creative types can agree they experience often: you never stop observing more, and as a result you see the things you could have done differently in your previous work.
It’s not to say that I’m unhappy with the portrait of my grandmother, but there are things I see now that I didn’t before. Taking a step back and looking at it with fresh eyes, I realize I flattened out the planes of space on the left side of her face, and perhaps outlined her teeth less subtly than I should have among a few other things. I won’t go back and do a thing to the drawing because I know it brings my dad joy as it is.
Maybe the aforementioned detail can be said of all things in life. When you leave them behind and revisit them days, weeks, months, or years later, your perspective is inherently different because of all that you have seen and observed in the meantime. Wisdom.
My dad loves to take photographs. He’s done it ever since he was much younger than I am now. Photographs of things we may take for granted…leaves blanketing a forest floor, the snow falling around a lit lamp post, the patterns in tree bark, the winding fence posts that trail off into the horizon, the way light and shadows fall upon a person’s face. My dad loves to see and observe. That’s part of why he’s so wise – and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased (well, maybe I am, but I write in earnest when I say he’s one of the wisest human beings I know and I happen to keep the company of many very smart people). Just as my dad’s “mum” was influential for him, so too is he for me. He taught me how to see and observe.
It’s so easy to stop at seeing. We move from one stimulant to another in milliseconds. But, if you take a minute to observe what you’re seeing, you may comprehend what you couldn’t before – in your art and in your life.