Looking and Seeing Essay

Over last several months when visiting bookshops I came across at least three books which tiles contained the word "looking". These are: School of Looking by T. Boruta, On Looking by J. Berger and Gallery. The Art of Looking by M. Poprzecka. After juxtaposing this excess with the title of book Theory of Seeing by W. Strzeminski I started to wonder what had happened to the area of Western art at the turn of XX and XXI century that people had to be encouraged to learn how to look but not how to see images. Why illiterate medieval man of was spiritually mature enough and had access to the Image that the Pope Gregory the Great could think without a fear that believers fall into idolatry, consent to the presence in the church paintings understand as a book for unlettered?
- A picture is exhibited in church for this purpose that those who cannot read at least, can look at the wall and can read about them what they aren't able read in book (Gregory the Great Epist.Ad Serenum, Epist. II, p.195). Let's note that Gregory the Great also referred to the world "look" but using the world "looking" proceeded by the world "at least".
So, how is it possible that people in the Middle Ages had the access to the Image by "at least looking" and now, educated modern Europeans haven't it and have to learn "looking" from the beginning? Does the limitation to master the skill of looking could allow the modern western man deep insight into art? I doubt.

Looking. The operation of looking contains the element of passivity, staring, superficial overview. The mere fact of having analytical skill to looking, knowledge of symbols, rules of composition and symbolism of colors is not enough to full cognition of the Image. I dare say that the invisible part of it remains hidden as before. Likewise, because gaze limited to watching causes that the image becomes an obstacle (veil) in the journey beyond borders of visibility. Literally preventing human visual perception from entering into the Image. Thus it is possible to look but not to see. You cannot, for example, reach the mystery of the icon. Just by looking. No, because one doesn't watch the icon but cognize it. A cognition (gnosis) means knowledge. Knowing is close to seeing. The ancient were conscious of it. Well, I'm not surprised by the statement of Tadeusz Boruta, who during the promotion his School of Looking, boosted that he use the world icon not once.
The limitations and shortcomings of human vision are revealed with explicitness in the folk saying: "Looking as ox (or calf, if you like better) on painted doors."

The limitations and shortcomings of human vision are revealed with explicitness in the folk saying: "Looking as ox (or calf, if you like better) on painted doors."
Whence this crisis of visual perception in European civilization, the civilization which transforms into civilization of pictures? This technical way of thinking on art eliminates old modes of images' existence. Two of them - an icon and secular painting have been almost completely eliminated and replaced by a new way of their existence as a investment.
Recently beaten price record for a painting of Picasso confirms me in this opinion.
It is not easy to live in an age of metaphysical dullness among intrusive excess unnecessary repetitions, imitations and simulacra. Before our eyes the great idea of antiquity, known by the term poiesis, is dying. Western man has more serious difficulties in obtaining access to the spiritual space of his predecessors. Not just looking but the way of seeing creates the condition for what can be seen.

It is inconceivable how Duchamp, with one urinal, could casts a bad spell on the artistic consciousness of whole twentieth century. But his "success" was prepared by many artists, especially from the circle of Dada. Postmodernism "late grandson" of Dadaism, secular version of negative theology, with obstinacy worthy of a better cause, persists in ugliness and interprets in terms of multiplicity what is an obvious unity. No wonder that visual perception of Western man becomes weary and indifferent. Soon comes the extinctions of the last artists who knew the old ways of view Image. Source dries, masters becomes silent...
We had, however, signals that it might happen. These signals were predictions concerning the future of painting, predictions of Hegel, Kojave, Malroux and others. But more about it next time.

("Informator ZPAP - Okręg Krakowski" nr 2, 2004)

Władysław Podrazik