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Thursday, 14 December 2017


When we're watching a movie together - really watching one, not just hanging out on the couch - I've started turning off wifi.

I've been working with my Scouts on the same skill - one of the most important things you learn from leatherwork, or woodworking, is the requirement to focus only on the task at hand at first. You can tell the kids who aren't focusing on knots quite easily:)

My father was an art dealer, but in his heart of hearts he was a painter. His specialty was near and far eastern antiquities, but his first love was the Western tradition. From his gallery in Manhattan, he was just a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum and he would often go there at lunch. On many occasions, I saw him spend a half hour just looking at a single painting. Matisse was a favorite of his, but he loved the modernists too.

When you visit a museum next, stop and look at how long the average viewer encounters any particular piece of art. In my observation, an average viewer looks at a piece of art for under a minute. In fact, a minute of really looking would be a really long time for most viewers. I'd be willing to bet a seltzer that the average is more like eleven seconds or so. ;)

Really engaging with any work takes time. And everything in our current multi-tasking, web-enabled, jump-cut current reality is pulling us as fast as we can go in the other direction. Taking the time to really see, rather than simply having a quick look is not merely a question of getting back a reward for what you put in; rather it creates a change in one's consciousness (and a worthwhile one, in my view).

I realize that this is a grandiose claim, but I would bet that the average TOP reader has a favorite visual work in mind to which he or she could pay extended attention of this type. But then again, I think a lot of us and our mental abilities. ;)

“What you get out ... is proportional to the quality of your attentiveness.”

Well, of course. The big question for me, though, is - what strategies can we use to develop the right kind of attentiveness? In mean this in terms of ‘audiences’ (those paying attention) and ‘makers’ (those making the thing being attended to). Theatres, for example, are machines or apparatuses to help an audience pay a particular kind of individual and collective attention to the activity of the stage.

What are the apparatuses of photography? Composition, use of colour, etc., are techniques ‘within the frame’, but matts and frames sit around the content itself, guiding the eye and suggesting certain kinds of responses to the work. Beyond that, the way a picture is presented - a loose print, a book, hung on a wall, on a screen (handheld, on lap, on desktop, on wall) - all encourage some kinds of attention and suppressing others. Like the theatre, the art gallery is a machine for looking (in a particular way), and like all machines or apparatuses, we have to learn to use them.

I wonder what it would do for our photography if we paid more attention to how we want viewers to pay attention to our work?

Can't top the featured reply, but this post rings absolutely true with me.

"And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make"
Paul (the usually silly but not this time pop-song writer) M.

"Either kind" means Australian Rules or Rugby League, yes?

[Of course. What else? --Mike]

Either type? Is that Soccer, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Rugby Sevens, American, or Australian?!!!

damn - or Gaelic??!!!

I had the great pleasure of spending an afternoon with the photographer Frederick Sommer at his cabin in Prescott Arizona some 30 years ago. The two things I walked away with from the meeting were Frederick's insistence that the most important thing one needs to cultivate to be an artist... and the most important thing when viewing art... is "quality of attention span". The second thing I asked about was his idea of Position and Occupier and he remarked " Oh they're two different sides of the same coin...."

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