Saturday, March 2, 2013

Seeing & Observing

Illustration from Harvard Magazine

In the latest Harvard Magazine is an excerpt from a new book by Maria Konnikova: Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.  In the book is a conversation between Holmes and Dr. Watson from Doyle’s  “A Scandal in Bohemia” which points to the necessity of “observing” rather than “seeing”.

 “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”


“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

I couldn’t agree more with Ms Konnikova.  In the business of architectural illustration we tend to focus on the basics of constructing a model, a view and an accurate rendering. We don’t put much emphasis on looking at existing buildings in real conditions over an extended time period, and none on trying to capture (and therefore “observing”) existing buildings in on-site drawings or paintings. The client is in a hurry, the architect is in a hurry, and we are easily swept along by the hurry of the modern world. Technology adds to the feeling that we can “see” it all with cell phone shots and a Googled world. 

I have a section in my book called “Learning to See” which advocates for more serious “observing”. More importantly, there are schools teaching traditional art to the new generation; schools that demand serious observation.

Perhaps a new world of more profound understanding is coming. One can hope.

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