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I grew up near the southeastern coast of North Carolina. There were extensive woods close by that the local boys in my neighborhood and adjacent ones used for playing, hunting, and camping. These woods were mostly pine forest with stands of pin oak, scattered sycamores, and various other deciduous trees. Aside from a few small grassy areas, the forests held a lot of dense undergrowth some of which was entangled with briars and vines. I remember that large sections of the woods were nearly impassable without a machete. The plants seemed to grow with a wild abandon and competed for every inch of available space.
In my late teens I made my first trip to Colorado and was immediately struck by the difference in the undergrowth in the higher elevation forests. Plants might be thick in certain areas, but everything seemed neat and orderly unlike the almost savagely random vegetation I was used to seeing. If you’ve ever encountered kudzu anywhere in the south you will understand what I mean. Oddly, though, observing the seemingly landscaped forests of Colorado, I was able to see the woods of my childhood with fresh eyes.
The French writer Marcel Proust, known for his keen sense of detail and observation, has, like many writers, been badly paraphrased in an oft-quoted so-called quote that is rampant on the internet: “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” With apologies to Proust, the paraphrase is appropriately true when considering that what we know or think we know gets in the way of what we might learn. The clarity of Colorado’s forests enabled me to see the familiar ones of home in a new light. I could appreciate the diversity of color, texture, and density that heretofore had seemed little more than a jumbled mess. I also understood something about nature’s geographical expression that served as a metaphor for social, cultural, and artistic diversity.
Artists look with new eyes. They frequently see interesting relationships in the most ordinary, everyday experiences. Colors, shapes, textures, effects of light, and sometimes the objects within which these characteristics are observed, can be the stimulus for artistic expression. Whereas the viewer might have overlooked the ordinary things, he or she will see through the artist’s eyes those very things that were unseen before. The “aha” moment is often a powerful one. “Why didn’t I see that before” will soon give way to “what a remarkable (color, shape, texture).” We learn from art and artists to see and experience our world renewed even as we appreciate the beauty of the work itself.
Editor's Note: You can view Donald's original post here.