O my faith, my untamed knowledge, how shall I fly to your height and see with man’s larger self pencilled upon the sky? – Out of My Deeper Heart (Kahlil Gibran)
I remembered once, while peering into the viewfinder of my newly acquired camera some years ago, a seasoned photographer gently reminded me that “the difference between painting and photography is the canvas that you begin with. With painting, you start with a blank canvas and you gradually add in your subject. Whereas with photography, you begin with a full canvas, and it is the eye of the photographer which is required to skilfully edit out the subject that is not needed to make the picture meaningful and beautiful”
This was during one of those random phases in my mid-20s in which I wanted to try every aspect of art, like throwing pieces of bait into a lake and seeing which one gets hooked first. I was in Petaling Street, and it was a short walking photography course. It was also when I learned that critical difference between a beautiful painting and a beautiful photograph.
Like photography, our understanding is framed within our own experience, coloured by an understanding that is unique across individuals, and almost always never the same between two people. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, the way we view the world is edited. Certain subject are given extra focus, while the rest, and sometimes equally as important subjects are given less emphasis, blurred into the background. We truly see what we really only want to see.
Yet, I believe we stand to miss out on the beauty of life if all we do is to remain perpetually stuck in this ‘editing’ mode. If we are constantly busy removing subjects out of our frame because it is less then what we view as ideal. If we are always kept busy at focusing on one subject, and allowing light to expose the best feature of a single item amongst a sea of equally beautiful subjects. Part of what makes photography exciting I believe, is also the waiting. Time spent in a momentary stillness, watching and observing within the viewfinder until the ‘right’ subject walks in and captured at the perfect time. But what if there is no such thing as a right subject nor a perfect time? That every moment, every frame and every picture stands in its own right, perfect as it is. Because what may be beautiful for you, may be something that I may not be able to appreciate at all. Art is subjective, and elusive. And that is why it can be called beautiful even if it is the most random lashing of spilled paint on a blank canvas.
An artist (who paints!) once said on an interview “art is not meant to be understood, because by trying to understand you confine its meaning within your own experience, interpretations and biasses. Art is to be felt by the heart, and not to be interpreted by the mind”
And so it is, rather than spending so much time editing, creating and moving our life about towards that one perfect, ideal picture, perhaps it is better to go beyond and above this concept, “to fly to the height of your untamed knowledge” and feel the vastness and perfection of life from this perspective instead.
You know this has to be
We always were so free