– The Little Prince
Generally, by the time you are real
most of your hair has been loved off.
– The Velveteen Rabbit
Here’s a chance to sharpen up your vision of the facts.
- Take a good look at this painting. Give yourself at least twenty minutes. Just pay attention to any detail actually there on the surface, shapes, sizes, colors, words – any detail no matter how small.
- Try not to give meaning to the painting while you’re taking this surface-features excursion. Also, do as little evaluation, judging, critiquing, as yo can.
- Keep doing this till you run out of details. You won’t! But you will get the hang of it in twenty minutes.
- Now, step back and look at the whole painting again. Did you brighten it up? Did you love off some of its hair?
My Commentary follows.
You will spoil your fun if you read my commentary without doing the surface-features game first.
When my students and I used to do this together, we’d go around and ask each person to point out something in the painting that hadn’t already been noted. We kept on for several rounds.
What happened was that each time a detail was pointed out it was as if that bit of the painting had a spot light on it.
The painting got more and more vivid as we went along.
By the time we stepped back and looked at the painting whole, it was a new painting, brilliantly visible.
The same painting, but seen intensely.
And no one even felt like criticizing it. We had entered the realms of gold.
William Carlos Williams and the Figure 5
After reading a poem by his friend William Carlos Williams, Charles Demuth did this painting, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, in 1928 — it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Here’s the poem:
The Great Figure
Among the rain
I saw the figure 5
on a red
to gong clangs
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
Notice how the words can illuminate the painting
how the painting can illuminate the words.