The mindful art of SEEING

The gift the artist offers is to share with us the mindful act of seeing for in order to make material their thoughts and ideas they have to spend time noticing, looking intently and making careful observation to the minutiae of things; the negative spaces between objects, the expression and emotion of faces, the effect of light and shadow, shades of colour, the variety of texture, shape and form. This act of seeing slows us down, and invites us to pay attention to the moment, not to rush and only take a quick glance but instead to come into a relationship with that which you are seeing and drawing, to understand it and make sense of its relationship with the world around it.

This language of seeing and ‘being still’ is demonstrated beautifully in the work of Gwen John, who using a limited colour palette, expresses her contemplative nature from the small attic room she used as both living space and studio. Bathed in soft light the wooden table is laid out for tea, highlighting the ordinariness of the brown earthenware tea pot, the simple white china utensils and her journal, waiting for her daily thoughts and ideas, her prayers and meditations to be scribbled on their blank white pages.

Gwen John tended to work in solitude despite being friends with many of the leading Bohemian artists of her time, Matisse, Brancusi, Picasso and Rodin for whom she became both model and mistress. She was received into the Catholic Church whilst in her 40’s, her notebooks revealing her longing for ‘the interior life’. She favoured indoor subjects painting empty rooms, still lifes and women seated alone in quiet spaces, perhaps an insight into the world she ached for having experienced much tragedy in her life through the death of her mother at a young age and a series of broken love affairs. Instead, her paintings express a deep love and empathy with the objects she draws, a letting go of her pain and instead seeing beauty in ordinary and simple circumstances. I am drawn to the small grey cross drawn in the window surrounded by light, initially seen as the formation of the wooden window frame, after time changed to a crucifix in my eyes, an aid to her prayers and bringing the presence of eternity into her everyday. Our relationship to everyday things can change when we take time to look mindfully, our perception of how things initially appear can alter as we allow our inner selves to look and listen and respond to the voice of stillness.
Spend a little time in one of the galleries and allow yourself to be drawn to one of the art works that causes you to wonder. Sit with the work for a while and begin a conversation with the artist, its subject and setting and your deeper self. Is there a particular element of the art work that calls you deeper? Is it evoking memories from years ago? Does it make you feel happy or sad, small or empowered? If you were to step into the art work what object or person would you be? Why? What questions is the art work asking you? What do you want to say back to it? What have you learned from the work?
Recognise how the artwork begins the journey of wonder and then leaves us to travel alone with our own thoughts, to listen to the work and its setting rather like the words of a poem. You may want to write or draw your feelings or response.