One of my favourite pastimes is looking at paintings. There are two great dangers when looking at paintings. The first danger is that of being too close to the picture. All we see then is the scrubbed brush work, layers of streaky paint, fragments of colour. We need to be at a distance before the painting comes into focus, and reveal its shape, pattern and impression of reality. But more. We need also to find the right angle to view the picture bearing in mind the fall of the light upon and within the painting. More still. For each painters work is different: each painting is different; so each painting calls for a new approach, a different distance and angle of looking. Some pictures need to be seen from a distance of 20, 30 or even 40 feet before the full depth of perspective, shadow and shade can be appreciated.
The second set of dangers follow from impatience. We need to spend time looking. Paintings do not reveal their qualities all at once. The reflections, contrasts, all emerge very slowly. So we need in turn to be very patient, passive, very still and reflective. We must let it work upon us – and let time stop still. But more. We see different things at different times. Our own mood, experience,, our own personality, affect how we see things. When we see a painting for a second time, perhaps after a gap of years, new qualities can emerge. The painting is the same. It is we who have changed. And so unseen riches await us; paintings can never be exhausted.
You can make the connection. What is true of looking at paintings is true too of how we view life, a community of people, the world around us. Our view can be distorted if we are ever two inches from experience. The very real need to be close and involved also calls forth the need to be at a distance. Only then can we see life in some perspective; only then can we see the traces of the pattern, the shape and the meaning that there is to be found in our lives. We miss this if our noses are continually pressed up against the canvass.
We need perspective.