August 2, 2018


Monet's Water Lillies


A wise man once told me over lunch that a child brought up as a painter will always see its reality in terms of painting. No matter if it puts paint on canvas or not, its vision will be indelibly marked by the training that teaches extraordinary sensitivity to colour, light, and shadow. It made me wonder, how does a painter see reality in ways that I do not? And what does it mean to see as "a filmmaker"? Can we even make such broad distinctions, or could a certain filmmaker perceive a tree in much the same way as a certain painter did? Are all our perceptions of colour, sound, light, and texture unique to the individual - and can these perceptions be honed? 


My belief is that perception is shaped by environment and attention. If you exist in the wild, as a hunter-gatherer, you will learn to differentiate more shades of green. The common explanation for this is that it helps that hunter distinguish camouflaged prey, and I'm sure that's part of it. But could it also be that the hunter perceives more veridian shades for its own pleasure? This has been my experience of perception, certainly: the fact that I can recognize many more degrees of shadow and light, and their qualities (hard, soft, angled, etc.), is simply delightful. It absolutely helps in terms of composing a shot to be evocative and beautiful. But primarily, it is an experience of joy. Similarly, when we learn to taste the notes of wine, to discern a bordeaux from a shiraz, to find plum alongside butter in our palette - the discovery is joyous! And the principle extends to any craft or pursuit that deepens in subtlety over time. Football, music, kissing, sex, cooking... you name it. 


For artists, this is both the beauty of the pursuit, and its challenge. We see more with every day, and every work, we understand more and more the potential of creation; but we must continuously strive to manifest what we see onto the canvas, filmstrip, page, or whatever medium is ours. The translation of perception is where it so often goes wrong. I know that most of the time the films I create end up feeling like strangers to me; perhaps that is an indication of my youth in this art so far. But I wonder if a painter feels the same way when it looks upon its work and asks where it came from. What about you? What do you see?




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