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Inside Jokes

··5 mins

I’ve long maintained that being able to draw is about seeing. But, thinking more broadly about creativity and its relationship to sight, I’d have to say there is a difference between seeing and noticing.

Seeing does not necessarily connote an aspect of thinking. Noticing, on the other hand, indicates that what you have seen has been digested by the brain and made some kind of an impact on the viewer. Even if that impact is but a fleeting fit of sentiment too ephemeral to describe at the time.

Let’s think about all creative endeavors. It’s about noticing the small things, the connections between disparate aspects of life, and showing those connections. It’s about pointing out those things, perhaps in the hope that when others see those same things later, they will be able to enjoy the same quiet, inside joke.

Their act of seeing will be transformed into noticing.

Consider what poet Ted Kooser says:

“In the following poem…one of my favorite poets suggests something…about how a single poem can alter the way in which a reader sees the world. FIRE BURNING IN A FIFTY-FIVE GALLON DRUM
Next time you’ll notice them on your way to work
or when you drive by that place near the river…Look at the first five words of this poem by Jared Carter: Next time you’ll notice them…For me, those first five words are among the most important in the poem. Why? Because Carter is to some degree writing about the relationship between a poet and his readers, about the gift a poet gives an audience. Those few words make an important assertion: Once we have read and been affected by a poem, our awareness of its subject—in this instance a group of men huddled around a barrel—may be forever heightened and made memorable. With the confidence of someone who knows the effects of reading poetry, Carter suggests that it’s likely that readers of his poem will never again pass a group of men warming themselves at a barrel of fire without a sense of heightened awareness. We are thus indelibly marked by the poems we read, and the more poems we read the deeper is our knowledge of the world.”1

It is about deepening our knowledge of the world and hoping to deepen the knowledge of those who view our art or read our words.2

Or, think about what writer/artist Austin Kleon says:

“You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes. The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want—to internalize their way of looking at the world.”

That is why I continually come back and back to the Da Vinci quote3

“’… you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinity variety of things, which you can reduce to a good integrated form. Look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well you may find really marvellous ideas.’…‘Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes… mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys hills, in various ways.’”4

Me too! I had this thought from a very young age, and it stands out to me as one of the first times an artist had articulated something I had noticed, but been powerless to express.5 That made the observation very precious to me, and I carry it with me to this day.

Then, creativity is not so much about stealing as it is about adding your voice to an observation that has been pointed out since time immemorial.

Your art, writing, whatever, is the “+1” added to the comment thread of observations about the world around you.

Sometimes you start the thread, and can’t wait to watch the others add their assent. Other times, you see or read something that someone else does, and their name and work are forever associated with that deeper appreciation of the work around you.

It is an inside joke, shared across time and space that induces the same reaction with which C.S. Lewis describes friendship

  1. Kooser, Ted. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets. Bison Books, 2007, pp. 6-7. ↩︎

  2. In this way, I suppose being creative is not much different from being a parent. After all, we hope to impart some knowledge, some way of looking past the surface of life, to the more important aspects of the day-to-day. To spare our children from having to learn the same hard lessons we, ourselves, had to endure. It would be much easier for them to learn about the motivations of a charlatan through a story, a poem, or a movie, than by having their heart trounced by their own naivete. ↩︎

  3. “Why can I never say anything once?” - C.S. Lewis Letter to Owen Barfield, May 17, 1943

  4. Wray, William. Leonardo Da Vinci in His Own Words: Science, Mechanics, Art, Life. Arcturus Publishing, 2005, pp. 90-91. ↩︎

  5. At least at the time. I’ve since tried to capture my experience of this observation both in my journal and in my poetry. I even considered an art series based on this thought. I may still pursue this. ↩︎