seeing clearly

Yesterday, Marco taught “enlargement” at the P+V Art Sprouts program. The class itself had four components: a warm-up (taking pictures of each other jumping), a critique of last week’s photos, a treasure hunt for details that Marco had taken of objects around the P+V, and a lesson in enlarging images, including photos. Observing the class, I remembered how difficult it is to see clearly because we manipulate images–scale and intensity–in order to create responses in an audience. Sometimes, we’re going for “beauty,” but at other times we’re aiming for disgust and fear, lust and laughter. Confusion?

Visual literacy matters because the growing popularity of platforms such as WeChat and Instagram work best when the core content is photographic and the text relatively peripheral. Indeed, the entire “conversations” can be entirely visual; memes and cartoons and giffs circulate instead of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Indeed, we create persona for our various social media accounts and upload them, seeking confirmation that this way of being is “liked.” My favorite representation of the disconnect between social media reality and lived depression is “Are You Lost in the World Like Me” by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir, but I think there’s also a huge disconnect between lives lived in relative affluence (and I’m looking at you so-called creative class in white America) and the dystopian armageddons and zombie apocalypses that dominate popular entertainment.

Of course, when learning to see clearly, we have to confront our personal inclinations–do we habitually enlarge details or ignore them? Do we prefer the unidentifiable closeup or the midrange picture of everything clearly seen? Do we like the high drama of black & white or the exuberant artifice of technicolor? These visual habits not only shape what we see, but how we feel about what we see, and in turn, provide the elements with which we construct an image to provoke a particular response in the audience. as well as the emotions we wish to convey, begging the question: how much of our art is simply trying convince others that our take on the world is the correct take? Plato would have banished artists for the truth-manipulators we are, but then again, he thought it was not only possible to see clearly, but also that those who saw clearly all saw the same world.

So today, images of children learning to unpack what they have seen (finding the details) and to manipulate what they have seen (enlargement).

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