Perception is continuous, the mediator of our relationship to the world and in that role, the place where meaning starts. Our sense of where we are is built from the ongoing dance of body in environment that leaves impressions we crudely label as “uneasy” or “tense” or “calm” or “uplifting. These automatic adjustments are shared by all beings that move around in the world and though as humans we may have gained some power to articulate them, each of us knows how specific and perhaps never to be seen again the fleeting qualities in any given moment. Yet in the moment the meaning is clear to us. Deep perception is where the rich inner life takes place, the anguish of a secret tragedy hidden behind the smiling selfie, confusion and uncertainty under the surface while projecting mastery to those around you. The contradictions of being human are the stuff of drama, literature and art. It’s an area that goes ignored by the compartmentalized demands of life until art comes to resuscitate it. The play or music unlocks the feelings that come from that level of knowing. But visual art has several advantages. First it is not time based. Revelation can be immediate, an insight born of the change in perception created by the image.
Because vision is always directing attention behind the scenes it can lead our thoughts forward. What we see initiates associated images triggering thoughts and ideas that underscore what the image means to us. It helps us see the personal pattern that led us to a particular painting. The stronger the feeling we have about what we see, the deeper the connection to individual emotional themes revealed by the artist’s expression of this sense of life. By boiling down essential patterns art offers the structure by which many analogous ideas can be constructed. Put an elementary school child in front of a painting and ask them what they think is going on and you’ll see this generative imagination work. That’s why talking about art has been shown to be so effective in building a child’s intelligence concretely demonstrated in higher test scores. (http://www.vtshome.org/) Since there are no wrong answers there is free use of language and expression.
Perception is so important to our navigation of being, developing our sensitivity to deep level patterns can only be a benefit to human intelligence.
Though meditation is best for training attention in the present moment, looking at a painting can provide a personally chosen enrichment to reflection, to add a level to the meditation that gives room for associations to flow and change. Whether you choose from visionary art that transcends the purely human or a modern portrait that resonates with existential confusion, the choice is led by deep perception of your current state and clarifies what you need to see.
We navigate the world guided by perception in the moment and haven’t had to give the visual level much thought because it does its job so well without conscious attention. But the world has become too complicated for linear processes to handle. We need the speed and overview of perception to see the patterns in the whole that guide attention to what is out-of-balance. Developing the range and sensitivity of immediate reactions to the overview means becoming more attuned to visual structure. Allowing room for deep perception gives us time to pause and reflect on the meaning of what caught attention and allow space for a more thoughtful response.
First posted in July 2015