Week 7: Seeing Differently

by | Oct 23, 2018

I have had a passion for photography from quite a young age. I have a good eye for composition and am captivated by colour and shape. However, despite having taken art as a School Certificate subject, I have never described myself as artistic and have been intimidated by holding a pencil or a paint brush in public. Yet, I have over the last 20 years used art as a way of reflecting on my internal world and spiritual stirrings, frequently creating mandalas in pencil or poster paint. So, somehow, I was drawn to add a week of Watercolour and Drawing to my sabbatical program and so this past week I have been at Ammerdown near Bath in the UK along with 4 other women under the tutelage of Jos Blake.

During the week I was reacquainted with the colour wheel and complementary colours but discovered that there is not just red, yellow and blue primary colours, but warm and cool reds, warm and cool yellows and warm and cool blues, and the earth colours of raw sienna, burnt sienna and indigo, giving a whole array of colours, well beyond a rainbow palate. I learnt how to use a complementary colours to knock back a colour and produce neutral tones rather than mud! I discovered that there where different paint brushes each with their specific uses. And marks can be effectively applied to the painting with a wide range items besides brushes.

Words like wash, glazing, and dry brushing, granulation, masking and layering, blending, wet on wet and negative space were added to my vocabulary. Through direct instruction, experimentation and critique, over the 5 days I could see my skills developing as I painted not so much masterpieces, artworks or pictures but largely samplers and test pieces with the occasional “finished painting,” some of which may find their way back home.

The gift of the week was not only friendships formed, new skills developed, but also a new perspective. Yes, I did finally come to understand perspective in art and could work with “vanishing points” to get my horizontals, verticals and diagonals to work in harmony to create a three dimensional shape on a flat piece of paper. But more than that I came to see the world differently. In two ways in particular.

These last few days I have been walking the ancient Cathedral city of Winchester, the capital of old Saxon England. It is autumn at its best. What I have noticed is that I no longer look at the landscape and architecture, the market stalls and water reflections with the eye of the photographer, but also with the eye of the artist. How could I represent those towering arches on paper? What washes would I use to build up the reflections of the autumn leaves in the River Itchen? How could I replicate the cobbled street? Yes, my perspective has shifted.

And it has shifted in another sense as well. One of my Grail friends, Patricia, in response to a posting (in our Spirituality Network email circle) by Marilyn has highlighted a question that many of us ask:

“Your impassioned questions convey the sentiments of most of us who are involved in any kind of environmental activism. How can people not see???” And Patricia goes on: “I think that I can give at least two reasons. The first is quite simply denial, which can exhibit itself in many forms. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross showed many years ago that one of the earliest stages of grief (in the face of death) was denial. I believe that for most people it is just too painful to contemplate what lies ahead if global warming continues. It is much safer to deny that it is happening.”
She then continues: “As for the second reason, I don’t think it is easy for most people to see the connection between the way they live and the climatic disasters taking place all around the world. How can my lifestyle cause a tsunami in the Philippines, for example? And if one CAN see the connection, then how can the actions of one person make a difference? A sense of helplessness and powerlessness in the face of the magnitude of the problem is another factor.”

Coming back to my week of learning through painting, I am wondering if there is another reason people “can’t see,” or “don’t get it.” They (=many of us) don’t have the personal experience, the insight that is gained through being immersed in that experience. They (we) lack the language to describe the experience (keeping in mind that being given glossary of watercolour terms does not make one an artist). We hear about the potential catastrophic consequences of our lifestyle and day-to-day choices, but we don’t “know” it in our beings. I sense this “knowing” can come about in limited and specific ways. The first is to have a direct profound experience of it, as the people of Kiribati and other low-lying Pacific nations do, who are experiencing the rising sea levels and having their drinking water supplies inundated with sea water. Another is to have developed the capacity to hear the other and their experience with deep empathy or interpathy*. Such interpathy, I believe is developed through transformational suffering and or contemplative practices that have led to transformation.

And then it works the other way. We don’t have the direct experience that our changes in lifestyle make a difference. Linking into the powerlessness that Patricia speaks of.

While I don’t know that I am any the wiser as to how to galvanise support for environmental activitism, be it on a micro or macro scale, I do believe that this week of Watercolour and Drawing has given me greater insight into why we see what we see in the world and how we can change the way we see the world such that we may act differently and maybe influence others.

* Interpathy involves genuinely entering into the experience of the other pathies and viewing their worldview as if it was the only way in which the world could be understood. Interpathy is a blend of empathy and awareness of cultural diversity. In interpathy, the process of knowing and feeling which requires that one temporarily believes what others believe, sees as others see, values what the others value.¹

collecitons of photos and watercolour paintings

¹ Interpathy Research in Healthcare System Does it Really Help? Nagoba B. S., Selkar S. P. , Nagrale A.V. Journal of Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences University Vol. 2, No. 2, July-Dec. 2013 p144-147.

Photo and painting of Avoca Beach in 2014
Photo and painting of Building at Ammerdown- my first watercolour painting
Photo and painting of the village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull which we visited last year
Photo and painting of an wet autumn leaf at the Omega Centre last month

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