I've also come back to Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek after starting it and setting it aside a few years ago and wondering to myself why I didn't cite Chapter 2, titled "Seeing," in my graduate thesis? The title did come to mind at the time but was set aside (again) in favor of others. I suppose it's in its rightful place now on a list of several books I've been compiling since submitting my thesis, some of which were cited and deserve a fuller read but mostly titles which were not cited at all but which I came to in the writing process and after or revived from the past like Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
I realize now that the thesis didn't have to summarize and investigate every single aspect of my work or every single relevant topic in art history, theory, and philosophy as I had wrongly and fearfully imagined then. And it didn't. Instead, it was more of an exercise in getting to the core of what I was doing in my art work at the time and putting that into a legible body of words and images, including my own and those of a small selection of kindred thinkers and makers, and in no way at all conclusive or final. A neat bow of a diploma was awarded at the end, but the thesis writing process and graduate school in general was quite messy. It was a cocktail of doubts and questions, exciting and sometimes scary experiments, failures, second tries, and little successes every now and then. One of our professors was quite right when he told us during the first week of our program that we would not end up masters of fine arts even though we were pursuing our Masters of Fine Arts. But what's really neat to me is how the whole process has served as a launching pad to new experiences, new thoughts, new ideas and books to explore for the years to come.
Which brings me back to Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and "Seeing." The idea of seeing, and "contemplative seeing" in particular, was the core of my thesis, and I spent a good deal of it in trying to define "seeing" in relation to my work. It seems as if I am perpetually defining and trying to understand the term for myself through the making of work, thinking, reading, reflecting, and writing.
With a friend I recently discussed the dilemma of seeking versus seeing, something I've been thinking about for a while. All of this thinking and reading and writing about seeing has led me to be much more conscious of my work and process, which has allowed me to grow but also made me dangerously aware of a creative process which seems to thrive on a certain un-awareness or naivete in regards to itself. In other words, I sometimes find myself seeking moments of seeing rather than being in an open state of waiting for them. Dillard describes this seeking kind of seeing and then she describes "another kind of seeing that involves letting go...The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment's light prints on my own silver gut."
It's funny how moments of seeing seem to occur for me more often when I do not have my camera than when I do, and sometimes I have the option to retrieve my camera and go back and photograph what I saw later, like the sun shining through this pattern of holes eaten through a ginger plant leaf in my backyard:
Sometimes I'm lucky and happen to have my camera with me in the moment. And sometimes I don't. And sometimes it doesn't matter whether I do or not because while I hold my breath observing the crumpled paper napkin arranged just so on the sidewalk before me, it is blown away by the wind a second later, and it is in those moments that I swallow a disappointment of a missed image and smile to myself because I can revel in the split second of seeing when "my own shutter open[ed]."