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FAQs for observing

Gene Bawden
Gene Bawden by Osian Grant 2007
Why is observation important in Art & Design?

Observation means having an unprejudiced access to the visual world. Observation yields an understanding of the world which is entirely yours; it's your own private source of knowledge, straight from your senses, which is independent and establishes your power as a scrutineer. Observation yields the only form of unmediated information you can ever gain.

What sorts of things should I observe?

Everything, short of abstract theory! We normally think of observation as being primarily about details, but it invariably leads to general understandings, in which you batch the details together to form an overall impression. The several details seem to meet and match; they form a pattern in your imagination and you come up with a picture of what you're looking at.

What strategies can I use to become more observant?

There's no fixed sequence or systematic recommended order. However, some people find it useful to start with what we would call the formal elements: colour, composition, construction. Once they've got the hang of the visuality of the piece, they feel emboldened to start observing its implications in terms of mood and feeling. But others jump straight in, having decided that the work makes a strong subjective impression, and then seek out analytically the details which contribute to this sentiment. The best formula for observation is to give yourself time. Don't expect that observation can be achieved rapidly. You have to be prepared to while away the time a bit and contemplate. It's not unlike meditation. Once you begin, it tends in itself to slow down time a bit, as the richness of the work - and your understanding of it - gains momentum and you're able to concentrate your observations more critically.

How can I use my observations to improve my assignments and in studio practice?

The best advice here is to imagine that your observations are like the material contained in the books you're reading and lie at your disposal. They're a form of intelligence awaiting your imagination to synthesise them, to turn them into arguments and artworks, then connect them with facts and interpretations with and beyond one another. Make them dynamic. It's just like the creative process, in which we decide to activate the colours in a way that lets the creative intention grow in our imagination.

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