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Learning to See

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‘Our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again.’

GK Chesterton


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust


‘Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is, as Ruskin says, ‘not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen,’ … I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing…. But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.’

Annie Dillard, ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’

Beauty and Desire

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‘What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more – something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’

CS Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’


Adding and subracting

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‘An artist has to be able to cut a great deal away.’

‘A picture is an original combination of lines and tones that have an intensifying effect on each other.’

Edgar Degas


Effort and effortlessness

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 “…and all that effort is ultimately going into trying to make something that is effortless.”

Andy Goldsworthy

Rivers & Tides


Favourite Haiku

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Two butterflies:
They dance in the air,
Double-white they meet.



Snow-swallowed valley:
The river alone painted
A black winding line.



I sneezed:
And lost sight
Of the skylark.



Waking, alive again,
In this grey world of winter rain.



The old pond
A frog jumps in:
Sound of water.


Signs of Grace

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‘The air is full of sounds, the sky of tokens, the ground of memoranda and signatures; and evey object is covered over with hints, which speak to the intelligent.’

Hugh Miller
The Journals of Gilbert White, 1751-1773


‘Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come.’



Revealing the Unseen

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(The painter) must be endowed with both imagination and skill in the hand, to discover unseen things beneath the obscurity of natural objects, and to arrest them with the hand, presenting to the sight that which did not before appear to exist.’

Cennino Cennini (c. 1370 – c. 1440)
The Book of the Art of Cennino Cennini


‘My art is to intensify the expression of things so that the heart and inner meaning are made vividly visible.’

Thomas Hardy


‘Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible.’

Paul Klee


‘I believe that pictures make us see the world. Without them I not sure what anyone would see.’

David Hockney


Looking and Listening

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‘There are certain spiritual things which I can find no way of explaining more aptly than by this element of water: for, as I am very ignorant, and my wits give me no help, and I am so fond of this element, I have observed it more attentively than anything else. In all the things that have been created by so great and wise a God there must be many secrets by which we can profit, and those who understand them do profit by them, although I believe that in every little thing created by God there is more than we realise, even in so small a thing as a tiny ant.’

Teresa of Avila
Interior Castle

Reclaiming Beauty

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‘The only etching I completed during the war was the small plate, Lesser Celandine. Our daily news was only of death and destruction, and most people were so consumed with finding enough food to eat that they had little time or interest for the new life that returned with each cold, late, wartime spring. Yet the celandine’s polished bass, the pleated leaves of the wild strawberry, and the slender-stalked violet came back unchanged and as beautiful still as when Chaucer looked upon them. Here was pure, unalterable, final simplicity and peace in a raging world, and that is why I turned to them. The wild animals and birds were at peace also: only superior, civilised man was at war, and proud of his insane invention. Only he resorted to makeshift, ersatz materials to serve his substitute-world: the long-tailed tit wove her marvellous bag of lichens in our honeysuckle and lined it with tiny white feathers and hair as fastidiously as ever….

My first and deepest longing was to make some assertion that goodness must be reclaimed, some celebration of the beauty of the natural world. I wanted to stamp out the base squalor of war and pursue my vision of the ideal world that could be ours had we but the will and courage to work for it. My sky would be cleared of aeroplanes and my landscape of pylons: my meadows should be filled with flowers again.’

Robin Tanner
Double Harness

Tintern Abbey

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Tintern Abbey

‘And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.’

William Wordsworth

Extract from his ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798’

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