Art & People Watching
What does People Watching have to do with art? Come to find out, there are a lot of commonalities in the two activities. Today I crossed paths with an elderly couple that I had met before. As we were walking in to an event, they commented, “Everyone is moving fast today.” I jokingly asked, “Are they moving fast or are you moving slowly?” as I patted them on the back. They responded lightheartedly, “Oh, we are probably moving slowly.” That conversation made me think, as an artist, about the process I go through when I create art and the process people go through when they view art. Whether a piece of art is created quickly, in a burst of inspiration and creativity, or a masterpiece is formed slowly over time, the artist who created the piece of art wants each person who sees it to really slow down and think about the piece as they view it. This implies an appreciation of art on a deeper level. It requires a person to see below the surface. As artists, we put our heart and soul into every piece of art we create so the pieces tend to become personal, whether we want them to or not.
It would be totally awesome if people would view each piece of art with the mindset that the older couple had that day, “We are just moving slowly.” Take it all in and absorb the piece you are viewing. Engage in it. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Let your mind drift along. Enjoy the piece in almost a child-like manner with awe and excitement.
You may have a hard time understanding how to do this, especially if you are in the habit of doing things quickly, but it is possible. To shift your perspective, you might think of viewing art much like People Watching. Almost everyone has done this in some fashion or another. What is People Watching? It is simply observing people’s actions—both verbally and non-verbally. It is observing their body language and idiosyncrasies that they have. This usually happens automatically whether you are aware of it or not. It also usually happens when you find yourself waiting for something or are bored in some way and you are in a crowd or a group of people. In those situations, if you are relaxed and maybe even a little bored, you might find yourself passing the time by watching the people around you. What goes through you mind when that happens? You may find yourself commenting in your mind about what you are observing. You may say something like, “That is interesting what that lady over there is doing.” “Look at the way that little boy is acting.” “Oh, wow, that person really has a loud, boisterous voice that is filling the entire space.” The little comments in your mind tend to go on and on.
Viewing a piece of art is just like people watching. You could simply sit down—at least in your mind—and make observations about what you see in each piece. Make comments in your mind. Engage in some way. If you see something exciting in the piece, feel the joy of it. Look at the actions of the artist—both visually what the artist did, but also what the artist may have left out. Observe the “body” language of the colors. If you look closely, you may even find some of the artist’s idiosyncrasies in each piece. Those may come from and artist’s unusual brushwork or from the sculptor’s unique approach to the sculpture. Because their hand created it, their artistic “fingerprints” are all over the piece.
In a way, it is like telling yourself to “stop and smell the roses.” Relax and take time out of your day to enjoy or appreciate the beauty of life that is right in front of you. What happens when you do this? Most people would say that when they really take the time to do it, they find that it adds meaning to their lives. It settles things inside of them in unique ways. Take the time to enjoy the art in front of you, even if it is in your home and you have seen it a thousand times. Take time to view it fresh and anew. New meaning and fulfillment can come to your life simply by taking the time to appreciate the beauty around you. I think that if you do these things, you will start to live life like an artist whether you are one or not and a lot of creativity and inspiration will come your way. Enjoy!
Another good read is Susan Krauss Whitbourne’s article “The Expert Guide to People Watching.”