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Drawing from Photos & Lost in Translation

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Unwitting Perpetuation of Someone Else’s Mistake

Sketching from someone else’s representation can make for a bit of trouble. I learned this from our youngest as she tried to school me in the art of drawing. Drawing from a photograph, while not bad, limits my perceptive ability. The photo is one particular view. Some one’s particular view. But to step away from the photo and try to sketch my own perception of the Cimetiére Saint Matthew in Quebec City, for instance, is to grapple with light and shadow on my own, and proportion, and my own inability to capture what I see.

A few days back I had a chat with a local philosopher who described a problem with the way Bertrand Russell read René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. When subsequent philosophy students read Russell’s interpretation of Descartes, they accepted his assessment as the true and honest way things were with Descartes. But Russell’s perceptions left out or downplayed certain arguments which would later prove pivotal for the development of an entire branch of philosophy. It took smart readers to go back to the primary sources and reread and re-perceive to open this new and productive branch.

This is the beauty of going back to look at something fresh. At least as fresh as possible, given the baggage we carry into every perceptive situation. That’s why so many of our best teachers—and frankly our best friends—urge us to go back to primary sources. It may be a document. It may be a relationship. It may be a place. But seeing again the original and seeing with fresh eyes—it’s often worth the effort. Especially if we are bent on saying for ourselves what we are seeing, which can make a difference in our work, our faith and our relationships.


Written by kirkistan

November 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

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