Monday, January 26, 2015

On Looking

At the Kimono exhibit in New York City, after I had spent hours absorbing and photographing the works on display, I realized that I had lost track of my husband Jim.

I found him here...



Completely absorbed in I knew not what.

Not wanting to interrupt his meditation, I paused to take in the sculpture which seemed to focus his attention...



In time, he saw me out of the corner of his eye and turned a somewhat faraway gaze on me.

I sat next to him and asked, "What do you see?"

And he said,

"I've been watching this fountain for about an hour.  Of all the people that have walked by this sculpture, less than 50% have bent down to look below the screen.

Of those that bent down, only 1 in 10 have stopped to read the placard on the wall."



"And of those who have read its description, only 3 of them have sat here and checked it out.  I'm one of the three."

I realized I was in the category of walking by without even seeing it.   After all, it wasn't a textile, it wasn't embroidered...I had dismissed it as merely "setting the stage" for the exhibit.

"It's a fountain, and for the life of me I haven't been able to see the water flowing over the edge of the rock, yet it is.  I've been sitting here trying to see the water move and I cannot.  It's really quite brilliant."



I sat beside him, trying to see the water move.  I got up and moved closer.  I squatted down...but no.  I couldn't see the water move either...but it was.  There was a constant flow that wet the top and sides of the sculpture without once rippling or bubbling or breaking surface tension.  It really was brilliant and I hadn't even seen it.

I was reminded of something that author Alexandra Horowitz had written...


Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you.  You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you. 
By marshaling your attention to these words, helpfully framed in a distinct border of white, you are ignoring an unthinkably large amount of information that continues to bombard all of your senses:  the hum of the fluorescent lights, the ambient noise in a large room, the places your chair presses against your legs or back, your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, the tension you are holding in your shoulders or jaw, the map of the cool and warm places on your body, the constant hum of traffic or a distant lawn-mower, the blurred view of your own shoulders and torso in your peripheral vision, a chirp of a bug or whine of a kitchen appliance.

It's from her book titled,  On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, in which the author writes of eleven different walks in New York City, most of them through her neighborhood, with eleven different companions.  First, she walks by herself and notes everything she sees.  Then she goes with her toddler, a geologist, an artist, her dog...you get the idea...and records her discoveries as her "familiar" surroundings are new again when seen through the senses of her companions.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read and found myself wanting to take a walk with Sidney Horenstein, a geologist who works for the Natural History Museum and gives geological tours through Central Park.

I came close to that experience a couple of years ago when fellow crazy quilter and blogging friend Betty Pillsbury came to visit.  Betty drove eight hours to Maryland from the Catskill mountains of Vermont.  By the time she arrived, her body was cramped from the car and needed to move so  I took her for a walk on the Grist Mill Trail along the Patapsco River where I walk many times per week.



Once we crossed over the bridge, Betty started pointing out all of the botanical names and uses for many of the plants along the trail.   Not only is Betty a talented quilter and embroiderer, she's also an herbalist.

Her knowledge of botany completely transformed the surroundings I thought I knew so well.  To this day, I smile and think of Betty when I see the Jack-in-the-Pulpits bloom in the Spring or when I spy the Mullein leaves which I now know to be nature's best wipe when you're in the woods and haven't got toilet paper!



Yesterday Jim and I went on that same walk which for us has grown fairly routine.  After walking in silence for some time my thoughts returned to Betty and how the walk was so different for me once I saw it through her eyes.  My wandering thoughts led me to my closest companion, so I asked of Jim...

"What do you see?"

"See that bit of the river, right there?" he said, pointing to an area where the water was running quickly around the rocks, "I thought that would be a perfect spot to show to a group of students.  It's an eddy current.  See how the water flows really fast on either side of that rock but there is a pool of water that stagnates and kind of swirls back around upstream?  That's an eddy.  Once you understand an eddy current you can much better understand heat transfer and using a fluid to cool a surface..."

And he went on to talk of thermal dynamics as we walked along the river holding hands and contemplating the efficiency of various surfaces for cooling fluids such as air.


What a rich world we live in if only we would could see it all.

What do you see?  Even more importantly, what don't you see?

P.S.  It turns out that the sculptor of the fountain above was Isamu Nogichi (1904-1988),  a well-known Japanese-American artist and landscape architect who has his own museum in Long Island, NY and whose sculpture I've passed many times on the Associated Press building at 50 Rockefeller center. He had a fascinating life that included a volunteer stay as an artist in a Japanese internment camp during WWII.  He was almost imprisoned for treason but the intercession of the Civil Liberties Union saved him.

21 comments:

deb* said...

I never come away from your posts without learning something! Lots of things to think about--thank you.

Shirlee Fassell said...

Its gonna be covered with snow pretty soon! Keep warm
XO Shirlee

Lisa Greenbow said...

A friend of mine and I have discussed this very topic several times. She is into natural gardening and knows plants well, I am a birder. When we walk together we see much more than if we traverse the same area alone. She is always looking down and I am looking up. :)

Moonsilk Stitches said...

Thank you very much for your wonderful post! I read it at the end of a busy workday, a real Monday Monday, and it soothed my frazzled spirit. I always need to remember to look.

a2susan said...

Your husband is such an engineer, thermal dynamics indeed! My husband teaches dynamics to aerospace engineer students so I understood your husband's train of thought...thanks for another insightful blog post and another book to look up.

Vicky aka Stichr said...

I have always seen more around me than some might, just part of my upbringing I suppose. [both parents artists, so they saw things differently] So once I asked my husband if he had noticed the sunset... he said "what sunset". I was crushed, and knew i HAD TO CHANGE THAT! opps...caps...anyway, I would say OFTEN to him and the children, look around you, notice the world around you, expand your horizons!!!!

It worked, they all see things differently than many of their peers, and now we have a new generation to teach it to, share it with.

Margaret said...

Thank you. I have shared this with my son and his fiancee, who are enamoured of all things Japanese...It is a powerful commentary on BEING and on marriage. Bless you!

Ruth said...

Kudos to your husband. He can come museuming with me any time. :)

lewmew said...

What a lovely post!

Createology said...

I am totally transformed when I visit your blog Susan Dear. Seeing that fountain would certainly mesmerize me and I would have to see the water moving...or at least hear it. I feel very serene right now...thank you.

Gerry Krueger said...

I walk the same mile almost every day through my woods and every day it is different, The dew on the webs, the new growth, animal tracks on the trail, the smells, etc. I never tire of the same mile. I also wish I could revisit every museum I've gone to as I would certainly see different things now... Hugs Ger

Rachel said...

My husband and I see completely different things everywhere we go - it can be very enlightening and enlivening...

Mosaic Magpie said...

It is a different world for each of us...reminds me of the saying to "be kind to those you meet, as you don't know what troubles they have". We are so constantly bombarded with sounds, scents, colors...this list is long and varied...one thing nice about a deep snow, it allows for such a lovely quiet to surround us.
Deb

E Wilburn said...

This is why I love exploring with my 4 year old...I try not to hurry her along if we don't need to. Many times when I think she's not paying attention, she'll come out with some random observation (and quite often, a connection to something we saw or talked about previously that I barely remember!) that leaves me speechless. And it doesn't need to be anywhere exotic - the backyard, the grocery store, just about anywhere is more interesting when she is with me.
Could you touch the running water in the fountain? I know both I and my daughter would want to try... :)

Suzanne said...

Another absolutely fascinating and educational post. I LOVE your writing. thanks for sharing with us.

Bozena Wojtaszek said...

It may be of your interest to see the movie about early days of Noguchi (and his mother, Leonie).
Here is a link to review (didn't read it, just was looking for the movie's title):
http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/film-review-leonie-1200328060/

crazyQstitcher said...

A wonderful, thought provoking blog Susan.
I learn things here that I could miss otherwise and am inspired.

Sarah Keeling said...

That was a lovely read. I first truly saw the world through different eyes when I had my little girl, but it is also so true that the world can be given a different perspective by less life upheavaling events.

It's good to be reminded that asking even someone we know well a different question can open another view on the world.

Judy S. said...

You write the most interesting post, Susan. Thanks!

Suztats said...

Fascinating. I remember going to a still life art class where each artist was to paint the same still life. There were 12 artists, and at the end of class 12 different paintings. It fascinated me that we each saw the same thing, but one's perception of it was unique.
Slowing down and really seeing the world from different perspectives is a challenge, but one that can be so rewarding. Walking with a young child reveals the magic of our everyday we often bypass in our hurry. Thanks for the reminder to stop and look at my world.

Bekah said...

That is the best kind of art - the kind that makes you think!

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