15 December 2011


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 16 December 2011

"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought."
                                                                                                                                                                              Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

To set the stage--more on the lighter side--for this week, quite a few responses, all appreciated, to last Friday's "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?"

A couple favorites...

"Hi Andy,

Just had to share this with you!! After reading your commentary on hearing yesterday morning, I left to go work with Toys For Tots. I had been there a few hours when we received a phone call from a grandmother needing help for her 4 year old grandson. The lady that took the call explained we had already closed our applications but she would talk to someone and see if we might could help her and we would call her back. The worker came to me and told me what just happened and then she added ,”this child is deaf!” Your article immediately came to my mind.......We are buying this kid a Big Ass Fire Engine with all the loudest bells and whistles on it we can find. He can see the lights and place his little hands on the fire truck and feel the vibration of the sounds!!!!! The group working turned on all the toys that made a sound and placed our hands on them to see what we could feel that this precious deaf child would feel. It was a very touching scene to say the least. Then we thanked God for the gift of hearing.......................

From the mother of a wonderful Marine to another wonderful Marine, thanks for your great articles.

Merry Christmas,

Barbara, Burlington, NC"


"Nicely stated. As the keeper of a diabetic and blind dog (Maggie), I have assumed the role of a "seeing eye person" for her. And with her very sudden onset of blindness, I have also come to appreciate what a miracle the gift of sight is. I no longer take it for granted. Well done, good friend, well done!"

Both readers unwittingly touched on the planned theme for today's Comment--sight.

Many years ago I watched an episode of the TV western 'Bonanza' that centered around an artist--a painter. Originally aired in 1962, the fittingly titled episode, "The Artist," cast actor Dan O'Herlihy as Matthew Raine, a (fictional) world class painter of plein air landscapes. Of course, the story resonated with me and to this day several scenes are so vivid in memory I could paint them.

As the story went, Raine's paintings--in design and color--were stunning and in demand worldwide. He'd been doing what he loved--to paint--and made a comfortable living with his brushes. But there was a cruel twist to the story. Only forty or so years old, and still to have reached the peak of his powers as a painter, he had a problem. Raine's had a big problem. He'd lost his sight, permanently, to disease. 

Imagine--a painter losing sight.

Raine was distraught. A guest of the Ponderosa, he shared his problem, anger, and suicidal thoughts, with the Cartwright patriarch, Ben. The wise old rancher listened, comforted the painter like he would have one of his sons of about the same age, thought, and asked a simple question--'Have you considered writing?'

Ben offered, though not able to see the landscape and paint it, he still had much to offer his patrons, and the world, painting with words. That is, pointing out, though in a different medium, that which most folks saw but did not see. At first the painter was not so receptive, anger subjugating rational thought, and countered he saw no point in living if not able to work with a brush and pigment. He confessed to knowing nothing about the pen.

Though young, I'd been painting for a few years and understood--completely--how awful Raine's plight. I could not imagine. I cannot still.

In the end, a female friend helped Raine transition from brush to pen. And there ended the story--leaving the audience to conclude he probably went on to become a successful writer--an artist still but with pen.

The sense--the gift--of 'sight.'

For those with sight and able to differentiate between the reds of a rose; ripe tomato; apple; cherry; fire truck (Big Ass or not); strawberry; lush raspberry lipstick; Christmas tree light; and a rosy cheek--how to explain the subtleties to someone who has never experienced light and color?

Think about it.

And then how to explain each of those marvelous reds has a complement from amongst an equally dazzling array of greens, and that there are yellows and oranges and blues and purples, too.

How to explain?

Something to think about.

Then there's the art of 'seeing.'

There's a difference between 'sight' and 'seeing.' There's a big difference.

It's possible to have perfect sight yet be blind. That is, to not see that which is right before you. And that observation addresses only that before our eyes, as opposed to the psychological aspect of 'blindness' which is another discussion entirely.

None of us 'see' the same. And even if we did see the same, exactly the same, how would we know? For all we have to communicate is imprecise lanugage to share what we see. Now some may argue that agreement means the same thing was seen. But that's just not so. Agreement is merely that, an agreement. It's not proof positive of the exact same thing being seen. Hair splitting? No, not really. Important? It could be. It depends.

As simple illustration, why is it some can look at a white ceramic coffee mug and see only white while others (e.g.,  painters) see only dazzling colors and no white?

The differing visual experiences--sight--are not psychological. They are real.

An obvious explanation is some see white based on teaching and learning associations (e.g., grass is green; water is blue; a lemon is yellow; a white ceramic coffee mug is white; etc.). What a shame, for those simple associations lack the complexity of reality (of light) and, more often than not, are inaccurate.

Others 'see' beyond the associations, seeing reality--what is really going on. That is, unconstrained (yet still constrained, by teaching, learning, and lanugage) they see grass as blue or bluegreen or red; sky as green or purple or yellow or redviolet; a lemon anything but yellow; and that white ceramic coffee mug a kaleidescope of colors. Yes, really.

Further, I suppose Ben was telling the painter Matthew Raine, and us all, it's possible to 'see' without 'sight.' There's much truth to that and a sage perspective that lends credence to the pun, "I see, said the blind man."

And there's good argument still to be made that those who've never had sight see more broadly and colorfully than those with sight could possibly imagine. Makes sense. Though we'll never know.

But one thing is known, come Christmas morning a young deaf boy will see and feel a Big Ass Fire Engine. Just maybe what his imagination hears surpasses reality. And maybe one day he will hear--with the reality of hearing, in some sense, being a disappointment to imagined sounds; wonderful nonetheless.

Just maybe he'll grow up to be a writer--of all things unheard. And maybe heard.

Or maybe he'll be a painter.

Regardless, an artist.

We'll see.

Post Script

"...your new book, On "SEEING"& Painting, is -- how should I put it? -- an eye-opener. It captivates like one of your colorful paintings. It isn't just the book's handsome binding, colorful photos, or clear writing that draws one in. It's the book's explanation of "seeing" even ordinary objects in ways never before imagined -- objects like lemons, tin cans, apples (green and red) and bottles of beverages...The humble cabbage -- or carrot, cantaloupe, or cauliflower -- will never look the same after reading your book..." Bill D. (Palm Springs, CA)

That the perspective of someone who sent a note after reading my book--'On "SEEING" & Painting'--a tome, a primer, penned a few years ago and geared for every and anyone, not necessarily artists--painters, looking for more in their visual world. There is always more to 'see.' Always.

Author's Endnote

Please support the U. S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program: http://www.toysfortots.org/

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