Eyes that see

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Posted 26 Jul 2010 in observation

It is taking me some time to figure out what this blog will be about and I assume the focus will evolve and change over time. I originally thought of using a blog as a way for people to find me, and to know more about the work that I do as an educator. But as I consider what I want to post here I can’t separate what I do at work with what I do in life, with what inspires me, with what I am thinking and talking about with others. So instead of procrastinating and not posting anything because I can’t figure out how to make sense of everything, I am going to begin…

The other day my good friend Emily–check out her blog about Thedford House, an assisted living home for people with dementia–suggested I watch Herb and Dorothy, a film about the Vogels, an unassuming couple (Herb was a postal worker, Dorothy a librarian) who amassed one of the most important collections of Mimimalist and Conceptual art. I love this drawing by Will Barnet, Study for the Vogels (Herb with hands on chin):

Study for the Vogels (Herb with hands on chin)

The artists, curators and friends interviewed for this film talk about the Vogel’s keen powers of observation–

Richard Tuttle: “Then you meet someone like Herb and Dorothy who have eyes that see…”

Will Barnet: ” The thing that’s very important is the fact that they had what I call an aesthetic eye.”

and Will Barnet again, commenting on the above drawing: “…he saw something and he got very excited and ran towards the painting and I thought of it when I made my drawings, how he moved, not the fact that he was just looking but he was looking very intensely and he was leaning over and he was bent…”

I wonder if, or more honestly I doubt that schools today (or historically, for that matter) consider the aesthetic eye an important element in the education of children. Beginning with the often offensive physical environments of schools, to the lack of room for subjectivity in curriculum, the action of seeing and a deep respect (and time) for observation is sorely missing. The aesthetic eye is sometimes innate, and sometimes needs cultivating-I recall a passage in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma where he talks about going morel hunting with a mycologist friend. For some time he could not find any morels, until his friend pointed them out–showed him how to notice them. Then Pollan saw morels everywhere.

Is cultivating “eyes that see” important to our society? Is the development of an aesthetic sense on par with learning algebra or writing a good book report? I believe strongly that it is and as Vea Vecchi, former atelierista at Diana School in Reggio Emilia has said, “beauty is essential for life.”

To see more of the Vogel collection go to: http://vogel5050.org


  1. Elin

    I am writing a critical essay on “expertise ” which needed to include a visual. This is the visual and the essay was the expertise of unlikely art collectors. I’m sure you can guess whom? With a suggestion of a frame, Will Barnet tells the viewer what the Vogels are looking at so intensely . With thanks for your work. Elin

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