This quarter, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and took an art studio drawing class. Other than showing me that I could in fact draw, as much as I believed otherwise, my art class made me more aware of my surroundings. I have realized the importance of taking the time to study the details as opposed to diving into action immediately, something that a comprehensive education could benefit from. We are taught many ways to think and to do, but without learning proper ways of seeing do these two really matter?
In the first classes, I was finishing my drawings very early, long before the class was supposed to end. It took time for me to realize that because I was not paying much attention to details, planes, values and shades, I was merely drawing the still life in front of us without presenting the real way it was. Putting down a simpler reproduction I created in my mind of the objects after a few reckless gazes I threw at them. Having finished early, I was bored and did not know what to do with my primitive sketch. I did not know what else to draw: I had not looked enough, seen enough, to have more to draw. The thing that I put on the page was more a result of the prejudice in my head, and having already used that, I did not had any material to work with.
I started to let go of the image in my mind and tried to see all the details, not the idea of how they probably are, but really just how it was in front of me. I began to notice things I had never seen before: the shades the light created, outlines that were not straight lines that I assumed them to be but merely borders that were naturally distinguished through different planes, and started to see the objects not as a scene but part of a three dimensional experience with weight and value.
This material awareness also raised questions in my mind about how I perceive immaterial things such as problems and beliefs as well. If I paid so little attention to the details in an activity as ordinary as seeing, how careful was I when thinking and doing various things? Stopping and taking time to discern material things let me take more time to be attentive with developing ideas as well.
I figured that just as I was too eager to start scribbling before I had fully seen the still life I was too quick to action; for most us, our willingness to act comes before studying the matter at hand. In many aspects of our daily lives, when we think about problems, debates, arguments, we are under our own prejudices and also enter with an already formed idea of what the other side thinks.
We form our opinions too easily and do not study them enough. And for the most part we are never aware of it and do not try to acknowledge the complexities of concepts and phenomena. Through noticing our own blurred view, we can hope to start acknowledging things as they are.
Although our society and economic system pushes us to be more productive and demands very meticulous use of time, a strong understanding of the problem and prioritizing the fundamental factors leading up to an issue are crucial for actually making progress. The reason is that targeting the fundamental problem is more effective than “skimming” the problem and trying to solve it through dealing with merely a portion of it.
Imagine an autocracy where people are suffering from censorship. Instead of demanding the authoritarian state to become more democratic, if they focus only on the censorship and put all their resources into that cause, how effective do you think they can be? They would be attacking a symptom, not the disease.
Stanford could benefit from an education more integrated with the arts. Students would not only become more sensitive to both the material and immaterial nuances around them, but also learn to observe before acting. Arts would help develop students’ ability to see with a more trained eye, and pay attention to different layers of information. They would learn to take more time poring over instead of jumping at any opportunity to act, as another Daily writer has provided an example of.
There should be more space for seeing, observing and getting in touch with our senses at Stanford. As of now, if a student is not studying the arts, the only arts requirement they have is the creative expression WAYS requirement. There are lots of opportunities for the arts at Stanford, but they are not very integrated into the curriculum. We need ways of seeing, as much as we need ways of thinking/ways of doing.
Contact Gülin Ustabaş at gulinu ‘at’ stanford.edu.