Do you think artists see the world differently?

Take a moment to consider how you see the world around you. It’s possible that you, like me, look in awe of the beauty everywhere, something I like to call the ‘artist’s sight’.

With the Voice of Rushing Waters 30x40 waterfall – oil painting by Bill Inman around 2001

With the Voice of Rushing Waters 30×40 waterfall – oil painting by Bill Inman around 2001

These thoughts came to me while I was reading a book called Crashing Through. A fellow named Mike May lost his sight at the age of 3 from a chemical explosion. Later, they replaced one of his eyes with a glass one because of an infection.

May never let his blindness stop him from grabbing life by the horns though. He holds the world record, which he set in the late 80’s, for the fastest downhill blind speed skiing – reaching 65 miles per hour. He worked for the CIA for a couple of years and he started his own business creating GPS mobility devices for the sight impaired.

Mike May downhill skiing – he set a downhill blind speed skiing world record around 1988 at 65 MPH

Mike May downhill skiing – he set a downhill blind speed skiing world record around 1988 at 65 MPH (source)

Then 43 years later in 2000, he had cornea stem cell surgery that restored his sight.

Sounds amazing right? May went from blindness to comparatively perfect vision almost overnight.

Researchers who tested May in 2003, and again in 2015, discovered that the eyes are a smaller part of the equation then they had expected. ‘Sight’ is primarily accomplished in the brain, which requires early childhood development.

20 years following his surgery May can see colors, motion, and some simple two-dimensional shapes, but he can’t distinguish 3-D forms, faces, objects or scenes from one another. He can’t tell the difference between a male and female face, and if he’s walking across a street and comes to a sidewalk that doesn’t have a significant shadow or difference in color, he can’t tell it’s there.

Recent research suggests that the part of the brain that processes 3-D recognition is not developed fully until we become adults. So, those who lose their sight at a young age never have a chance to develop that crucial part of the eye-brain equation – what scientists call experience-dependent plasticity.

The human eye

That means that our ability to clearly see all the nuances of life is made possible by our brain. Human eyes are like a camera’s lens – if that camera was sending the information to a super computer rather than a simple sensor.

20/20 Vision vs ‘Artists Sight’

You might be thinking – what on earth does any of that have to do with the arts?

I believe that the ability to recognize beauty in the world is a developed skill. But, unlike Mike May’s 3-D processing problems, I think it can be developed at any age.

The first Spring after Kristie and I moved to Muncie we came home from a lunch date and saw some neighbors out on their porch. We walked over to meet them.

We learned that our neighbors had lived in that same house for more than 30 years and were now retired.

We told them that we had just moved from the beautiful arid mountains of Colorado. We loved the Colorado landscape, but it was very different from the humid Spring plants of Indiana. Kristie and I were overwhelmed by the profusion of blossoming trees and flowers that surrounded us in our new home.

Kristie asked one of them “is it always this beautiful here in the Spring?”

Their reply – “well you know, I guess it is beautiful isn’t it. I never noticed before.”

Muncie Indiana in the Spring – photo by Bill Inman

Muncie Indiana in the Spring

Our neighbors’ eyes worked perfectly. They had the opportunity to see what Kristie and I were seeing. But somehow, over a span of 30 years, they failed to see the beauty around them.

So, I wonder – do artists see something others don’t or can’t see. And if so, is ‘artist’s sight’ something we are born with or can it be developed?

My hypothesis is that artists have a different view of the world around them and that it is something anyone can develop at any age. I think it’s our job as artists to help the world see how beautiful it is.

Would you choose Switzerland or Television?

One of Kristie’s family members married a wonderful lady from Switzerland. The bride’s grandfather kindly paid for the whole family to come visit Switzerland for 8 days to enjoy the wedding.

After 16 hours of flying we were driven to Hotel Zürichberg. None of us had been to Switzerland before, and as we got out of the vans that took us to the hotel, Kristie and I marveled at the postcard perfect scene in front of us.

Zürich, Switzerland

Zürich, Switzerland

After dropping off our luggage, we went on a walk to explore our incredible new surroundings. It was an awe-inspiring experience, and one that Kristie and I will never forget. What was most surprising to us though, is that we found out it’s not uncommon for visitors when they first arrive, rather than head out to enjoy the scenery, to instead stay in their rooms, turn on the TV and watch a show in a language they don’t understand.

While there may be a host of good reasons others choose to rest instead of explore (like jet lag, anxiety, etc), the fact is that as an artist nothing could stop me from stepping outside as soon as possible. There was just too much beauty in the real world for me to spend time in front of a digital one.

Up on a hill overlooking Lake Zürich, we sat on a bench and watched hot air balloons drift gracefully across our view while accordion music played softly nearby.

We both looked at each other and asked, “are we in a movie scene?” It all seemed too perfect.

We felt that way the rest of the trip!

Lake Zurich from our room at Hotel Zurichberg

Lake Zürich from our room at Hotel Zürichberg

Some of you may be wondering what pushed Kristie, a cowgirl from a small town in Colorado, to immediately run outside and appreciate Switzerland’s beauty with me.

Kristie tells me that she sees the world differently since we got married. She had no real interest in paintings before meeting me and she didn’t ooh and aah over the landscape.

Now she calls me when she’s driving through town and tells me to run outside to see the clouds, moon or a setting sun. She has also become a master at critiquing paintings – finding the fatal flaws in my work when my brain develops blind spots.

She has developed an ‘artists sight’.

What about you? Would you choose to run outside and explore, or rest inside with a television?

Next week I’ll share some ways to gain, or further develop, an ‘artists sight’.

See Part 2 – How to Acquire Artists Sight (Part 2 of 3)

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