The artists of the group recognized the importance of losing your preconceptions and harnessing the ability to accept the moment, accept change, and let the experience be what it is, for you. Artist Sam Gilliam referred to this as “sailing” – being able to reconstruct one’s self through this notion of simplicity. Of course, not everyone buys into this. Former New Yorker staff writer, Lawrence Weschler, talked about his relationship with the artist Robert Irwin, and how Weschler’s “loose synapsed moments” as he calls them – that is, his moments of free-association – used to really irritate Irwin. He would encourage Weschler to experience the work for what it is, or to use Gilliam’s metaphor, to “sail.” Weschler didn’t seem to me to have the personality to support Irwin’s advice. His essays on convergences, examples of which he discussed at the conference, explain that our visual perceptions rely precisely on our prior visual experiences.
The scientists of the group, such as Dennis Proffitt, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, supported the idea that it is in our experiences where we find the ability to understand the world around us, and our abilities of perception are perhaps predetermined, strictly biological. In other words, we have such a conscious awareness of space and our own physicality that in order to understand what we see, we must be able to understand ourselves in relation to space, and be able to create the experience. He related these ideas to the David Smith exhibition, on view at the museum, where the artist’s playful relationship between concave and convex forms challenge the viewer’s ability of perception. In observing the shapes and forms of Smith’s sculptures, our perception of the forms is contingent upon our location in relation to the work (for instance, should the lighting change we may not see what is truthfully a convex shape, but rather, a concave one). We believe what we see, we don’t see what we believe.
The discussion session at the end of the day revealed consensus in response to the questions of the day, and to the question of how these ideas of perception and slow looking have resonance in our daily lives and in our world. In an idea-generating economy, we are reliant upon innovation to move us forward. Creativity is the catalyst in this process. I have to say I left the conference feeling inspired (and no longer nervous about my compulsive need for structure). I wanted not only to begin to get my hands dirty with this idea of creativity as the catalyst of innovation and new ideas, but also to surmount my museum professional angst: the sadly common, perpetual disconnect from the works hanging on the walls. I can’t help but consider, then, the seemingly contradictory idea: if we all find a way to slow down, then could we find a way to move forward?