Originally published Apr. 7, 2012
I have been writing about a 1980 video documentary on Ernst Haas entitled “To Dream With Eyes Wide Open”. In my last blog, I discussed Haas’ idea that artists incorporate their surroundings and then are able to re-present those surroundings with their own personal vision or experience on whatever medium is in front of them: canvas, paper, etc. using whatever vehicle they have in their hand: paintbrush, camera, pen, etc.
Another profound idea in his documentary is that children see in pure vision and as they grow up that is taken away from them as they are schooled and civilized. Adult artists then must relearn how to “see” as they did when they were a child.
“If you are a child in many ways you are really yourself and you have a strange kind of a logic and the grown-ups come and they want to correct all this beautiful logic which is as illogical as poetry because it goes in a truth which is far beyond intelligence. And then comes the school and you learn to read and you learn to write. And suddenly this literary dictatorship pushes away all your vision and you are no more free. You can’t see a tree, no, you have to say “tree.” You have to know where it is, how it is called. You can’t enjoy pure looking, pure observing, pure thinking. But to live without a name this is when you become visual. When there are no captions. When it just is and with it being, it becomes. That means you have to unlearn to read and write and just live a little bit with your eyes…and maybe…music. So you really become yourself. I don’t want to become mystical but in meditation you do that. You forget yourself. You push your ego away while you be yourself. Forget that you want to be the best photographer in the world. Forget that you want to make the prize in this and this competition. There are no prizes, there are no competitions.”
This reminds me of a museum experience I had with another mom and her kids. At every painting or structure, she would stop and recite outloud to her kids whatever description was below the piece. I had not been doing this, merely observing with my own kids and “oohing” or “aahhing” or “wow-ing”. I started to feel somewhat self conscious of myself at this point. Here was the other mom, giving her kids a crash course in art history, their brains growing larger by the second. I sheepishly started to do the same with my kids, a little quieter and now, intentionally, a few more steps behind the other mom. Now, I am rethinking that experience. Maybe it was ok to just observe and experience without all the details and background information.
There are really two big ideas in this excerpt from Haas. The first is the seeing as a child part and the second is the competition part. In today’s world where so much of people’s identities is wrapped up in internet presence and competition in photography is as fierce as it ever was, it is difficult to not get wrapped up in that thinking. By that I mean when you are in the process of creating, your thoughts are not with what you are doing but with what the end result will be. I guess not in the present, but in the future. I like the thought of it – just being at peace with what is. Photographing something because you are drawn to it, not because you are trying to gain critical acclaim or recognition for your work.
Coming up: I think I will take a break from the Ernst Haas quotes and talk about or better yet, show what is going on outside: images of Spring.
Happy Easter everyone!
I am a photographer who lives in Minnesota. I blog about Minnesota, photography, music, food and miscellaneous topics.