Recently I joined a group of artist friends to visit the David Hockney exhibition at London’s Lightbox. It was presented as an immersive experience - the four massive walls of the space (and the floor) were constantly alive with an ever-changing kaleidoscope of Hockney’s work across his career, underscored by an audio commentary taken from interviews across the many decades of his life. Now in his 80s, Hockney oversaw the presentation of this exhibition himself.
“There is no such thing as bad weather,” Hockney explains with genuine awe and enthusiasm. “I can look at the little puddles in the rain and get pleasure out of them … if it’s rainy I’ll draw the rain, if it’s sunny I’ll draw the sun … The world is very, very beautiful if you look at it, but most people don’t look very much.” His enthusiasm about how we can experience a new depth of feeling of being alive and aware through really focusing on the act of looking becomes genuinely engrossing and infectious in this 50-minute cycle experience.
What I loved so much about the exhibition is what it tries to explain to us - that looking and seeing are participatory events, not simply a recording of what is in front of us.
As Hockney puts it, humans see psychologically, whereas the camera sees geometrically. Our experience adds dimension, layers, texture and meaning to events which we choose to see, whereas a photograph can only record a fraction, a layer of that moment. We can participate whereas a camera merely observes.
Whilst photographs can undoubtedly help us to recall events with which we have had some relationship or experience, the photograph is simply the stimulus and the response comes from the viewer - their memories, recalled thoughts and feelings can be sparked. A photograph is two-dimensional - the viewer adds other dimensions. If you've ever come across photos in a flea market or junk shop, we are often fascinated by them - but we cannot read the stories they want to tell, because we have no direct connection with them.
In an age where we automatically grab our phone to record simply everything - meals or everyday events, somehow made special (we can feel) by their capturing, what was fascinating to me was how few people actually at the exhibition had their phones out to record images- most were allowing themselves simply to be experiencing the images first-hand, without the need of a camera’s eye to validate them. This is the start of a deeper way of looking, and a significant shift in our perceptions, which I found intriguing to witness.
It's important to understand that there are genuine health benefits to this approach too. Staying curious, actively focusing your attention and allowing yourself to discover new details in what you see forges new connections within your brain, firing neurons and creating new pathways, which can contribute to improved longer-term brain health.
We are used to hearing about mindfulness in its many different forms and applications- mindful eating, mindful listening, and so on – so it isn’t that much of a leap to explore and embrace mindful seeing and looking.
“You can’t be bored of nature, can you?” Hockney asks us “… if you really look. But you have to really look.”
The David Hockney exhibition Bigger and Closer (not smaller and further away) is at Lighthouse London, now extended to December 3rd. Take a good look.
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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