One of the great skills of Artists, Designers or Entrepreneurs practice is an ability to See, that is, to observe or notice things of interest. They are then, usually particularly talented at reading, translating or applying these observations creatively. But it starts with seeing! We are constantly exposed to a barrage of information on all our senses. Being able to categorise, negotiate and certainly disregard much of this data is a skill, which whilst necessary, can become too effective in narrowing our attention. We train ourselves to only take note of the ‘important details.’ But ask yourself, how important do you feel when someone spells your name incorrectly? Small, but Significant! So how do we recapture our attention to detail?
1. Document It – You don’t have to be Leonardo Da Vinci to keep a notebook handy (in fact Leonardo would no doubt envy your iphone!). Drawing can be a fantastic way to develop your observation skills, if you can learn to focus on the lines you see, not what you expect to see. However you might simply snap a photo, write down a few words (twitter it!) or even record yourself a voice memo. ‘It’ could be anything you experience, a smell, the shape of shadows, the feel of your desk, the colour of your foot. Begin with a loose goal to make a unique, yet random record of your week. If it helps you might imagine an audience, but don’t try to make these fragments hold meaning, the exercise is simply to observe.
2. Frame It – It can be difficult to observe something you ‘see’ everyday. Try reframing it! Put it somewhere different. Great Art has often been nothing more than an Artist moving a thing or idea somewhere unexpected, such as Duchamp’s Fountain, a urinal he exhibited in 1917. http://bit.ly/ab3mx5 Moving something puts it in a different context, changing its relationship to the world. Try putting your rubbish bin on an office chair or on top of your desk for the day and consider how your idea of rubbish changes with this increased status. We literally frame our precious photographs, but everything ‘has its place.’ Shift your world, shift your thinking.
3. Transform It – Make a small thing big, a coloured thing black and white, something 3D flat. I once accidentally photocopied my shirtsleeve and was fascinated by the result. Transforming things is another way to reframe them, giving new perspective. Technology can provide helpful and non-destructive ways to transform things (computer simulation), but sometimes it is ok to just go ahead and melt GI Joe! The artist Christo explores transformation by wrapping things, including most famously the Reichstag! http://bit.ly/4kD0jw
4. Transform yourself – If you can’t wrap the Reichstag, or change a thing or idea (or person) try transforming yourself. This will in effect change your relationship to the thing. We regularly do this to some extent, modify our behaviour or look depending on a situation. Heels, make-up, a telephone voice. Try using your non-dominate hand, stand when you usually sit, affect an accent for the day, or a whole new character if you are able. Designers often physically put themselves in the place of their clients to have first hand experience of this perspective. Imagine what you might discover if you traded places with a friend, colleague, family member or pet for a day.
5. Be in Dialogue – The first four points listed were techniques to practice and develop your observation skills, but perhaps most important, is to adopt an attitude of seeing. As seeing is something most of us are fortunate enough do from birth, we tend to arrogantly neglect our practice of this incredible gift. Take a position of being in Dialogue with your space, that is, to have an encounter in which your relationship to an object or idea is open to change. From this position, you will truly begin to see.