My friend Richard Brady wrote the following note about learning to truly see. This speaks my mind about the act of appreciating art. If you look at the definition of the word appreciate, you grasp the layers of meaning when it comes to art:
a : to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of <appreciate the difference between right and wrong>
c : to judge with heightened perception or understanding : be fully aware of <must see it to appreciate it>
“Yesterday I had the privilege of spending the day at Smith College, attending the Center for Contemplative Mind’s 5th Annual Summer Session for Contemplative Curriculum Development. The highlight of the day for me was Jody Ziegler’s talk about the contemplative component of her Visual Arts History 101 course at Holy Cross University. Her goal for her students is that they learn to truly see. The first week of class Jody takes her students to the Worcester Art Museum and introduces them all to an abstract painting. She asks the students to visit this painting every week for the duration of the course and, after each visit, tell her in writing what they’ve seen. Most of these students are unfamiliar with modern art and certainly not fond of it, and many go for weeks resenting the assignment.
Jody tells her students that however they relate to the paining is fine. Their experience is part of what they see. Feeling safe to have their relationship to the painting be whatever it is, they begin to see more in the painting, its surroundings, what it evokes in them. Over time, they find their relationship to the painting changing. They begin to make their own sense of it (Jody expressly forbids them from getting any outside information about the painting). By the end of the semester, many students see beauty in the painting and find that the painting has become “their painting.”
Professors who teach upper level art history courses have told Jody that her students look at art in a way that no other students do.”
Beholding is the term Richard uses to describe the process of truly seeing. Art appreciation can be taught, at any age, and it will enrich the life of the beholder. And as I wrote in Teach Your Children, for the younger ones, a box of chocolates doesn’t hurt…