I can say I am a trained artist. I went to a total of 7 1/2 years of art school. During those years I had lessons in all the traditional art techniques, art history, art theory, art criticism, art interpretation…
But the most important thing I learned in all of those years I learned in the first year of foundation. From a teacher who kept us on our toes with his very quiet voice. He would sit on the floor, still in his motorcycle outfit. With a gentleness so strange and unknown to me, he talked to us about our senses, how amazingly sensitive and subtle they were. He taught us to pay attention to them.
Every morning we would sit for 20 minutes and draw the contour of the nude model, excruciatingly slow, without looking at the paper. Paying attention to the urge to skip up and down the model with our eyes, the need to check and control the drawing, learning to look very slowly and uninterruptedly.
We would sit for hours, no, for days, and just mix colours and build up a library of little swatches, putting them next to each other, paying attention to when blue shifted to green, and how grey seemed yellow when purple came around.
As we discussed each others work, we were taught to pay attention to how ideas were actually verbalized, with what attitude and intent one took the word, and what was being said between the lines.
We would visit all the exhibitions and collections, the good ones and the less good ones. We were 19 years old, and didn’t know a lot about art history yet. But we were taught to take our time in front of each work, and allow it to speak to us. To let the first impressions happen, give some silence to the experience, perhaps some new associations would come up? To come back to the work, to pay attention to our own reactions and feelings as they changed.
I remember doing exercises like “Walk in the city and pay attention only to what is behind you.” Then, only to the sounds you hear. Or only to what is in movement around you.
I remember these times as if in a trance, being flooded with new impressions every day, simply through learning to see. It seemed that my capacity for concentration and fascination was endless.
I realized I could select and change the focus of my sensorial input. As I focused on one aspect of it, it would open up, and give me more and more information. And I had the freedom to choose where to put my attention…
For this to happen, I learned, I had to slow down, even if it was only ever so slightly.
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