ENCOUNTERING the SUBJECT

What’s the difference between a sculpture given pride of place in a museum and a tree trunk washed ashore after being sculpted by countless tides? One is human-made, one isn’t, the places where we see them are nothing alike, and we attach very different meanings to each object. You can probably think of other differences. But what if we untangle the threads that make up the answers and see what’s left? Perhaps finally, the object itself is all that remains, without any stories “about” it.

1. Amida Buddha; Japanese, circa 1130.
2. Driftwood log; 12/22/21.

***

What I’m talking about is the idea of removing layers of received wisdom from the experience of seeing, the encounter with the subject. A few weeks ago I photographed a handful of objects at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Essentially my approach to looking at art objects isn’t so different from my approach to looking at objects anywhere. That afternoon I didn’t ponder who made the work, why it was made, or how it fits into history. Those are good questions, no doubt. But I prefer to encounter art more directly. After all, the objects I was looking at were free from expectations or ideas about me. So, to the degree my mind was open, maybe I could approach them on the same terms, without distracting preconceptions.

***

3. Detail, Buddhist ceremonial banner.
4. Bullwhip kelp; 12/22/21.

***

Objects appear in my visual field as form, light, color, texture, structure, pattern, and perhaps other qualifiers that haven’t occurred to me. I enjoy taking them in on those terms. When I roam the landscape it’s the same: form, light, color, and texture present themselves in various guises. There’s no need to include extraneous thoughts (not that I don’t torture myself trying to remember the names of plants). Staying with the physicality of objects, leaving concepts and projections out of the relationship, one can embody a fresh appreciation of the world.

One thing that’s enjoyable about a museum experience is that the objects on display are presented with enough space around them to allow the viewer to rest in the encounter with the subject, to give oneself over to it. Focusing on objects individually, one after the other in conscious appreciation of their particularity, our attention is honed and heightened. I’ve noticed that after I walk out the museum door the experience doesn’t stop. I find I’m attending to the makeup of everyday objects in a deeper way. I’m more engaged with everything. In fact, even in the museum I often see chairs, shadows, and other “ordinary” objects as aesthetic subjects in their own right. That’s one of the pleasures of museum-going.

***

5. Near East ceramic vessel? (I didn’t check the label).
6. Valves and alarms on an industrial building; 12/24/21.

***

You probably already figured out what I’m doing with the images here. Each pair of photographs includes an art object and an object I photographed outside of the museum context. Maybe the pairings can help point toward a taken-for-granted fact: valuing one object over another is a choice we make or don’t make. I’m not suggesting that the log, the kelp strands, or the industrial valves I photographed should be in a museum. I’m suggesting that whether we’re in a museum or in a desert, at home or on an elevator, it’s possible to meet the world with fresh eyes and directly experience beauty without extra layers of mental activity.

Some of these pairs may be more obviously connected than others, which I think is fine. The point is to suggest a kind of universality of perception. There’s no need to see objects in museums differently than you see the objects you photograph. Conversely, everyday objects really benefit from the close, special attention that we give museum artifacts.

***

7. Calligraphy scroll, probably Japanese.
8. Angel-wing begonia flower buds; 10/08/21.

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9. Water-moon Guanyin; Chinese, 10th to late-13th century.
10. Old Bigleaf maple tree; 12/01/21.

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11. Detail, Chinese landscape painting, probably 18th century.
12. Detail, peeling bark on a Madrone tree; 01/18/21.

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13. Thousand-armed, Eleven-headed Guanyin; Chinese, 16th century.
14. Spiraling stem and leaves on a tropical plant; 11/17/21.

***


60 comments

  1. So many things delight the eye, Lynn. I find there’s a limit to hpw many intricate pieces I can look at in a museum before my eyes start to glaze over. Nature is much gentler than that. I particularly love your capture of the shadows of the Buddhist banner.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an outstanding choice of photos and excellent images more than ever ! With a fresh eye like that of a child the experience of the world becomes so different. The subject can be a unity like a tree or the statues above, but it can also be a pattern, a a detail or just another part or aspect of the world. if you just look at it. Moreover, without giving it a name there’s a moment of wonder and a sometimes magic unity behind it. Your post , images and text., make me see a child , an artist or other fresh-eyers ๐Ÿ˜‰ run, walk or stand there in awe and enthusiasm. thank you for the wealth , inspiration and thought-provoking text in your wonderful post. Take care, Petra

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Petra, thank you for a lovely comment. I like to focus on a detail and find patterns or abstract shapes and I think that habit comes partly from looking at so much art. As you said, before you name something there’s a moment of wonder and if we’re lucky, magic. Well said! I’m pleased that you resonated with this post. Any time I can give someone a little inspiration or a new way of looking, I’m happy. Thanks again and take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Art in the museum naturally also educates the eye for the artistic in nature.
    One sees graphics in the kelp strands, in the fluting of trees ect.
    Also expressive figures show up in nature in abundance. You have shown that with the plant leaf, which shows a head. In the wood, especially the dead wood, shows a lot.
    The theme also reminds me in its repercussion of nature on art of a deceased classmate. He has implemented grass in an interesting way in large format paintings.

    I show it with the next comment…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿ‘Œ

    Another lovely, thoughtful piece, Lynn, with carefully considered juxtapositions. Your reflections on a more direct experience of the objects without various layers of projection resonates with me. How far can we go in casting off the associations whilst still perceiving them as differentiated objects from the field of visual stimuli, the two-dimensional function of varying hue and intensity of light?

    โœจ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ•‰โ˜€๐ŸŒ™โš–๐Ÿช”๐Ÿ•Šโ™พ๐Ÿˆšโ˜ฏ๐ŸŒ๐Ÿฒ๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™‚๏ธ

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re right in that, if we strip away meaning or context, what we’re left with are the basic elements of shape, texture, light and shadow. I think it’s how many of us ‘see’ and it allows us to be so eclectic in our choice of subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really love the idea of these pairings. And having them paired really made me look deeper at each one. A collection of these would make a fantastic project or even small book with the pairings on opposing pages. Really wonderful stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for having an open mind, Howard – of course, you always do. Your encouragement is appreciated. I think it would be a bit difficult to ferret out enough pairs for a book but I do like that idea. A small book. A zine! Thank you again, very much.

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  7. You take me through a class on seeing…. it’s always a treat to see and experience the journey you guide us on.
    If I must pick a favorite, it would be the last image… but the others definitely jostled for attention and praise as well!
    (I like Howard’s suggestion of a book with opposing pages.) ๐Ÿ˜

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Gunta! It’s nice to know you enjoyed this rather oddball post. The last pair came to me in a flash and I was happy with that one, too. It’s fun to connect things that aren’t ordinarily connected. Thanks for the thumbs up on the book idea….have a great week!

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  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on seeing. What’s kind of interesting about objects in a museum is that it’s not just the artist’s vision, but the curator’s as well (lighting, placement and display). Good post Lynn!

    Liked by 1 person

    • At times I worry about sounding preachy but hopefully, I avoided that. It’s very true, what you say about the curator’s position in the process. Many things come into play but in the end, it’s a question of whether you connect with an object, just like it is outdoors. I know we will never lack things to delight our eyes. Thanks for the comment, John. Have a good week!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I smiled as I looked at your pairings. I enjoyed your photographs of nature most – probably because you are the artist when you photograph. At the museum we are photographing someone else’s art and the photograph is a recording of the art. Both are legitimate uses of photography but I find it so much fun to be the artist as I photograph and process what I see in the world. I definitely see your artistic mind working in your photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point, Pat, thank you. There’s typically less creativity when one is photographing art, compared to photographing nature, true! It’s fun to read that you see my “artistic mind” working here. Thank you for that. ๐Ÿ™‚ I appreciate your thoughts and I hope you have a good week!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What I’m going to write is certainly sacrilegious and absurd for many people, but after working 40 years on works of art (mostly paintings with a religious theme), at this moment I find imeeeeense beauty in nature and very little in museums!
    I recognize that they have technically wonderful pieces, with exquisite design and detailsโ€ฆbut they don’t make me vibrate.
    And I am enchanted with a stone, a trunk, with the elegance of a branch, a cloud in the sky, etc, etc, etc.

    I find the topic of the post very interesting. And as Lynn wrote โ€œI’m suggesting that whether we’re in a museum or in a desert, at home or on an elevator, it’s possible to meet the world with fresh eyes and directly experience beauty without extra layers of mental activity. โ€

    We can really be attentive, freed and not associate thought anywhere, but we have to be with our heart: with our eyes and with our heart.
    If the heart is not already there, as I feel mine is not in these โ€œart spacesโ€, the appreciation and feeling is restricted and very limited.

    On vacation I rarely go to museums. But I believe that when I retire, in two and a half years this will passโ€ฆโ€ฆโ€ฆ.

    I really liked the post, whether the theme or the image sets. Perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for a very interesting, thoughtful comment. The heart must be there – that is so important. There is nothing like the beauty we find in nature. In the end, there’s nothing more important than nature, it seems to me. I do still enjoy going to galleries and museums but I can understand your feeling that something is missing in those experiences. It’s all about life.
      Thank you again for making a valuable contribution to the post. I appreciate the time you take with everything you do – including typing comments in a second language. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Have a wonderful week, Dulce.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I like that you’ve incorporated what many might think of as disparate objects in your study of “thing” as “art” in and of itself. It really comes down to value and perception. While I’m happy I’ve had the privilege of exploring many museums in my lifetime, I will always remember my outdoor world encounters as more transformative and awesome. Wishing you a very happy new year, full of the delights of nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great point – value is an important part of this. I try to value everything, or at least to consider the value of all kinds of things but I’m sure I frequently fall very short. For sure, outdoor experiences are more transformative but I have spent some wonderful, inspiring hours in museums. Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts, it’s good to hear from you. Have a most excellent 2022!!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this post! I would like to change the subjects immediately, just to see the different impact. Okay, Buddha statues can be found in nature, but it would be nice to see the difference with a branch or a twig, given enough space in a museum. It reminds me of the post I made about seed capsules that I photographed on velvet. I know this is not your intention to put things into a museum, but I would like to experience it, if this makes sense to you. Give things enough space.
    I like your “pairs” here, you chose them well – again. I remember you did this before. I like your objects from nature most. 4, 6, 12, 14 are my favorites here, but 3, 11, 13 are wonderful as well. And the calligraphy of course.
    I agree with your sentence: I prefer to encounter art more directly. I like to enjoy art without an overload of knowledge. If something or someone interests me more, I start to do some research, but in the moment itself I don’t need more. Your experience that you see objects in a deeper way after you leave the museum is interesting (if I get this right, or do you feel like that all the time?). I know this feeling when I go home from my art class. Afterwards my view is sharpened and I notice things around me much more intense. Unfortunately it fades away. I think what you describe is a real talent of yours to give every object the same emphasis! One can see and feel it in your photos ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your idea, especially if the everyday objects were out on display along with the “important” ones. Not quite the same as Duchamp, but in that general ballpark. Have you seen paintings like #11 in museums? I used to walk right by but in the last few years I paid more attention to the style and I really like it. So many little leaves, beautifully painted trees, etc. Your approach to viewing art and mine are similar. No surprise. Start with a “clean slate” mind and find out more if you’re curious. You understood correctly – it’s after looking at art in a museum that I start to see other things that way. It’s a different kind of perception. It’s like your mind gets cleaned out and inspired. I can imagine feeling that way after an art class, too. Of course, it fades away! That’s why we like to keep going to art classes and museums! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for what you said about giving different objects an equal emphasis, I’m glad you see that. I try. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, I think I haven’t seen things like #11. I don’t know which museum here (in my radius) has something with this main emphasis. I like it too! It is interesting that our mind changes (luckily) and we get more interested in things we used to didn’t pay much attention!
        Actually I meant only the natural objects in a museum, without the “normal” art objects, but it could be interesting as well in a comparison of both objects. Many possibilities ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I too prefer to encounter art directly without knowing all, or any, of the facts about it, or even the interpretation from others, and I agree that it’s possible to meet the world with fresh eyes. I think it’s one of the senses that becomes highly developed in photographers, and one of the gifts of photography – we’re always *seeing*, always looking.
    There are several shots here that jump out at me for their sheer beauty – 3, 8, and 14 especially. And I love the shot with the valves.
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    • Always seeing, always looking – yes! Thanks for your input, Alison, and for letting me know what appeals to you the most. It’s funny, a few people mentioned #3, the ceremonial banner with a shadow. I wasn’t that happy with it – it was one of those exciting things you see and photograph that doesn’t result in as good an image as you’d hoped. But that’s my own experience, which is different from other peoples’. As for the industrial valves, I would love to see more of that kind of thing. I discovered an industrial area not too far away that I need to explore more often. Have a good week!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. So so fascinating, Lynn. The interesting thing is that the camera is like the museum in the sense that it can take an object out of its normal context and present it as an object of wonder. So the playfulness of setting these pairs of images emphasizes exactly that. When I saw the kelp, I immediately registered it as a piece of jewelry until I read the title. The same with the bark in #12 as a painting and the spiraled plant in #14 as a staircase or a piece of armor. So, in a sense, you have become a curator of images because you see the wonder around you even as you admire the curated pieces in the museum. Hmmm, I’m going to have to think about this even more but perhaps it gets somehow to the heart of the artist and creativity. Brilliant post, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, what a good point about the camera pulling things out of context, Lynn…why didn’t I think of that? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you! I’m glad you thought of jewelry when you saw the kelp photo – I thought of that, too. There’s a bit of flattened perspective that helps in that image, in addition to the way the strands were arranged by the tide. I like to think that the bark reminds you of a painting because I cut my aesthetic teeth on abstract painting and conceptual art, back in the early 70s. Those early influences are strong. I imagine you have a similar experience musically? Please share any further thoughts you have…too bad we’re not in a sharing-coffee distance of each other. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much for an intriguing comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Lynn, I love the concept and message of your excellent post. The experience of seeing things- organic or man-made and appreciating the elements of them whether they are on a pedestal or in the woods. Your pairings work beautifully- the thousand armed figure and the spiraling stem got me, the calligraphy and the begonia buds are a clever pair, the banner and the kelp…all of them thoughtfully chosen – and so well shot. Thank you for opening my eyes – very impressive. Hope you’re having a good start to your new year. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jane…some pairings sprung into view while others took time, as you’d imagine, but it was a fun exercise. Any time I can bring a little inspiration your way, I’m happy. I bet you had a lovely holiday with those two cuties and the rest of the gang. We enjoyed the snow for the most part – quite a lot up here and it lasted a long time. Still glad we’re not in NY but it’s good to dip back into a different kind of weather from time to time. I’m sure you can relate. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • I like the idea of fleeting but fulfilling. Beauty is everywhere and so much is worth paying close attention to. (I’m sure I could have said that better). Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it.

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    • Thanks, Alan, it’s good to hear from you. It’s a good exercise, putting together images that wouldn’t normally be thought of in the same, um, thought. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You’re right, it can go one and one. I think it keeps the brain fresher, and I bet the kind of work you do does that as well.

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  16. Decoupling our education, knowledge and information from our vision is an ambitious and necessary task, but it only makes personal perspectives possible if you want to move away from clichรฉs. A few days ago I watched the four videos on YouTube that John Berger made for a BBC TV series in 1974 entitled “Ways of seeing”. (He remains a great art critic and essayist to this day, I think). So I’m exactly on the path you’re treading here.
    This kind of unbiased view is perhaps a special photographer’s view, because the success or failure of our endeavor largely depends on the parameters you list. And this way of seeing certainly influences our view even when, for once, we don’t have a camera in front of our eyes. And that is lucky, as you demonstrate here in words and pictures.
    Of course, the pair of characters and begonia branch (numbers 7 and 8) is my favorite here, if only because of my enthusiasm for written structures in nature. But also No.11 and 12 are simply wonderful examples of the relationship between man-made and natural works.
    Another great post, dear Lynn, as you continue the more programmatic path.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Decoupling, that’s a good word for it. I’ll look for those John Berger videos – thanks for mentioning them. That’s an interesting idea that photographers might come to this way of seeing naturally. I suspect many don’t but the better ones do, don’t you think? I do love the feeling of finding new relationships and forms in what you see right after immersing yourself in an art exhibit. It’s part of the joy of seeing. #11 & #12 are a bit of a stretch and I’m glad you liked that pair. It’s fun to do – you should try it! Thank you, Ule, thank you very much. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  17. Wonderful thoughts and pairing of subjects which could be regarded as diptychs. Right away I thought, well if we have found still-lives, why can’t we have found sculptures too. I understand what you are saying about viewing objects human or natural in the same way and that makes sense. In my thinking, when it comes to making art, photographing the natural world is a collaboration with Mother Nature or perhaps God. So when you photograph man-made objects it is perhaps a collaboration with whomever created the object in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Denise, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s good to know that you understood what I was talking about. I like the idea of photographing nature as a collaboration very much. I can see how it could extend to makers of objects we photograph, too. You’d have to allow for a very wide range of subjectivities, which of course, is what exists. All grist for the mill, right? Thanks again!

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  18. Hi Lynn. Interesting post. Good idea to present your thoughts as pairs and they go together very well. If I got it right, your goal is to view the objects of the world ‘an sich’; free from all possible connotations, to come to a ‘fresh appreciation of the world’. Start from scratch.. or should I say from your scratch.. I like it a lot. When I go out with my camera, I like to go out with an open mind; ready for whatever I’m going to meet.. A year or seven ago I had this fantasy in my head that I was exploring the unknown beauty that was on the streets; in the fields; in the woods; on junkyards and old industrial areas: the Art of life itself.. Nature, taking back what was taken from her.. Culture decaying into nature again.. And I thought that this Art was way better than the art which can be found in museums, because it was free of human, mental decisions and/or commercial considerations… I hope that fits your ‘fresh appreciation of the world’.. ๐Ÿ™‚ But when you have reached point zero; and you are surrounded by objects ‘an sich’; what then? The answer that came to me was that then you have created a situation of freedom to give your own meaning to the world around you. Or maybe that world turns into a mirror in which you can see your ‘self’.. And it does not really matter whether you identify yourself with what you meet in the outside world, or whether you project yourself on it, because the content is the same, regardless of from ‘which side you come’.. Well, I haven’t come much further ๐Ÿ™‚ but I’m pretty convinced that it has to do with letting your consciousness grow. And I think it brings you a richness that can’t be payed in money.. Thanks for this mind provoking post; greetings for both of you out there! See you, Lynn.

    Liked by 1 person

      • No problem! These concept posts can be hard to translate but yes, I think the phrase ‘an sich’ says what I’m getting at here. It’s an idea that I know resonates with you, and comes naturally to you. I like the way you describe how you began to look at the world and photograph the Art of life itself.
        I love the idea of nature taking back what was taken from her. I don’t like to think of nature or natural art as “better” than what we find in museums. We find amazing things in museums, things humans have made. I like to be careful about making judgments like that, of saying one thing is “good” and another is “bad.” For sure there are things I like more than others but that’s different.
        Your thoughts about “what then?” are interesting – freedom to create your own meaning, the world as a mirror, I think I can see that. Anytime you end up with growing consciousness, well, that’s a good thing!
        Thank you for contributing your thoughts, they enrich me. Joe says “HI!” too! See you!

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