Learning To See

In five minutes, here’s an image I made:


Here’s the original:


Not nearly as pretty, right?

This took about five minutes, shot and processed on my iPhone (my app of preference is SnapSeed, if you must know). An insignificant image that makes a point:

The art of learning to see isn’t about the tools. It’s about learning the tools like you learn a language. We know that language influences thought, and thought in turn influences language. These visual abilities are just another tool in the language toolbox, like grammar and punctuation, that aid in our ability to see the world—and speak—in new ways.

Sometimes I feel like we nerd out on the details: which lens, which app. This can be like happening upon a conversation of copy editors discussing em-dashes, predicate objects, and the Oxford Comma. It’s useful as a practitioner to know and discuss your tools. And occasionally, as a learner, it’s good to break down work you admire to understand how it’s made. But…

Language is something you use to communicate. It’s the art of hearing your voice projected into the universe, or receiving those artful words from someone else, that gives what we do its enjoyment.

Tools, art, photos; understanding, learning, discovery—all good.

Then, speak. Let your voice be heard, through the intuitive art of seeing and creating.

A Man and A Bean

I like that over the years my experience and enjoyment of coffee has grown with me. It all started late in university, when I started working as a fixer for an IT entrepreneur – an enigmatic and generous fellow named Jake. We would meet each morning at his “office”, a corner booth reserved in an out-of-the-way Starbucks (a relatively new chain at the time). Continue reading “A Man and A Bean”

Tolkien on Becoming a New Person

The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword-blade was stained black. Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.

“I will give you a name,” he said to it, “and I shall call you Sting.”

After that he set out to explore.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Why Text Becomes Literature

Words can be so rewarding – text becoming literature – I think precisely because they form such a narrow-bandwidth pathway to the brain.

A comment I made at a recent speaking gig (about video being the highest-bandwidth pathway to the brain) got me thinking about why literature is what it is.

Words can be so rewarding – text becoming literature – I think precisely because they form such a narrow-bandwidth pathway to the brain. The slow trickle of words forces a constraint on the brain that leads to rich associations and images. And when – in the case of Shakespeare and other great artists – the gentle architecture of their words begins to collect into a bigger whole, the reward is unspeakable, so beyond what seems possible from such a singular narrow trickle of text. This fragile lattice of words takes such genius to construct that I wonder that it’s possible at all.

Images are so much easier. Film is an embarrassment of images. The systems and symbols are so overly rich the mind has to filter out rather than strain to construct (as with text). Literature stretches the mind to build from the abstract; still images stretch the mind to explore, abstract and imagine more; while motion pictures stretch the mind to filter out the unnecessary and focus on what’s worth more of my attention.

God over death in his hand

In Flanders Fields,
Where boys become men,
We hand them a gun,
And say “All for Peace!”

We remember.

The innocence and all that is humanness gone in the vast gulf of power put into a young boy’s hand with a rifle. Overpowered by what men making fire making industry wrought, he becomes a man made in the image of flame and God over death in his hand. And yet he’s still just a man, a want to survive and be conscious of love and be known is all that he ever asks for. God and man become one in the fire at the end of his rifle as he sprays death and watches the man he destroys over fighting for sight of God-knows what land. It’s all over and done, a boy becomes man becomes God becomes pawn because he did what man wrought in his image of industry, God over death in his hand.