Artists See... and 5 Ideas for Better Eyesight


“The artist has a sharper eye. He sees what you do not see. He has a more fertile imagination and captures in the mirror of his imagination things that escape your notice. He sees more; he sees deeper; he sees better; he sees things in relationship to each other. He receives harmonious impressions, and he objectifies those impressions in ways that nature does not provide, but in a way that he must show in order to let you, with your weaker and coarser and less practiced eye, enjoy similar impressions.

The artist sees. What he sees he captures in his soul. From his soul he incarnates that impression in his imagination. From that imagination he brings it to the canvas, in lines, forms, and colors…” -Wisdom and Wonder by Abraham Kuyper, pp. 164.

The artist sees. But how does the artist see? If you could break down the creative process from canvas to stories to sculpture to dance, it’s all about seeing.

A finely tuned eye, is the path of every writer, painter, filmmaker, comedian, or musician. They all work with the same canvas of mind, heart, soul, spirit, speech, reason, inspiration, paints, computers, pencils, clay, beats, and sounds.

The expression and voice and angle and perspective is where art finds its legs and uniqueness in the world.

But how do we see? Or to say it another way, how can we develop a better eye to create more compelling and important and unique art?

Let me give five ideas:

1. Unplug

The noise of our lives diverts from seeing with fresh eyes. I’m not against social media, blogs, TV, streaming services, or whatever medium we engage. Yet, they often are time sucks, and diversion from what is going on around us in real time.

If we want to see, really see, create, and become more aware of the things in view, we need to unplug.

One of my favorite things to do for better eyesight is to take silent retreats. This means going outside, spending time in a secluded space, turning off media and trying to realize my thoughts, tensions, anxiety, and worries. Maybe journal, pray, and read.

Unplug from media and then do #2.

2. Document

What do you see and notice? Document what you are seeing, no matter how weird, simple, or fragmented. Use your phone, pen, pencil, journal, or chisel into the side of a cave, doesn’t matter. Just document.

An artist is someone trying to pay attention to the good and bad of our world and giving their angle on it.

What sounds do you hear? Why is that person wearing those shoes, or speaking in that way? How did a certain passage in a book spark imagination in you?

After taking all these fragments of observation and seeing, we now have a canvas to work with, whatever that canvas may be.

Documenting is an intentional practice that takes work, but will help up our seeing game.

3. Read

You can’t be an artist on any level, unless you read. Books are thoughts, ideas, and perspectives frozen in time and a place.

Listen to voices of the past and present. Listen, stay humble, and don’t make quick judgments before hearing the person out. Whether you agree with their perspective, you are mining for fresh eyes to see.

Reading fills our minds with new insights, ideas, and fuel for creativity.

4. Explore

Take a walk in a part of town you never visit. Maybe take a trip to another country. Drive a different route home on the daily commute. Walk, instead of driving, and note what you’re seeing. Go hang out in the suburbs, urban, or rural areas of your town, where you typically never go.

If you only do the same things you always do, and never stretch yourself to see and experience new cultures and people, your eyes will not readjust to new sights.

5. Ask: What If…?

The artist who desires new eyes and fresh creativity must stay curious by asking: What if? A writer is used to this foundational question, but the what if mantra is fuel for any creative venture.

What if… is also an opportunity to take something already done, and do the opposite, or do it better, or with a fresh spin. The what if question forces you to take seemingly obvious conventions and turn them on their head.

Example: What if… we took the story conventions in Star Wars, and set the story in the ocean, and the year was 1582? Okay, maybe lame, but you get the gist.

What if… unlocks portals in our creative subconscious to explore new ways of doing, being, and creating. A voice and angle new to our typical path.

Warning: make sure to not censor the what if question? Let your mind and ideas go crazy with no bad ideas off the table. They will synthesize into something usable after you create.

The vocation of an artist is to see, to see with fresh eyes, and to take that imaginative genius and share with the world.

Implement a couple of these ideas into your creative work and see where it leads. Stay curious and your eyes will follow suit.

Originally published on The Writer Cooperative