Perspective {revisited}

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As a freshman at Purdue studying Fine Arts, I spent an entire semester drawing the same structure. Three days a week. Every week. Four months. The same thing.

There is this place right in the middle of campus where a number of walkways, corridors and buildings converge into an open space. Architecturally and from a space planning sense, it is really quite stunning.

Right in the middle of the open space are these fountains, that seem to be oddly misplaced in the context of what surrounds them. To one side are the buildings that house the schools of engineering. On another side there is the pharmacy school and to yet another side are administrative buildings that house the dean of students and other official types.

But there are these fountains. They seem to spring up from nothing. Whimsical and playful and completely unexpected.

The assignment for the entire semester was to build a portfolio that showed this spot on the map from every possible perspective. To be honest, I liked the idea of spending warm afternoons out on the grass drawing rather than in the studio being lectured. I liked that part far more than I did the idea of drawing it repetitively.

It didn’t take me very long to figure out that there were places that I could plant myself that made drawing the space pretty easy. Finding a spot where I could look at the fountains straight on made rendering it in perspective a breeze. Everything looked right. There was no need to measure angles and figure horizon lines and vanishing points. The view from that spot was aesthetically pleasing.

It was the perspective that mattered.

It took me just about as much time to figure out that there were places that I could plant myself that made drawing that space a nightmare. A spot where lines and angles and forms converge and twist and becomes nearly impossible to replicate. The view from that spot was gritty and tangled.

It was all about the perspective.

It could be where one sidewalk would crash into another, both coming from opposite angles. Or where the slope of the walls of the fountain would intersect visually with the overhang from the roof of a building in the background. Or looking down on them from the corner of a roof top of Schleman Hall where, when you stare for too long, your eyes begin to play tricks on you, like you have been staring at an optical illusion and soon you don’t know which lines are real and which ones are imagined.

I learned so much about composition and technique and scale and art in general that semester.

I learned perspective.

Little did I know at 20 years old that the lessons that I learned sitting in the grass with some paper and a a pencil would not only encourage me later, but at times sustain me.

I learned perspective.

Perspective isn’t this static thing. It’s not a feeling. It’s not an emotional state. It’s not the way you view things.

It’s the way you see them.

Objects don’t change.

A building is a cube. That doesn’t change. No matter where you plant yourself, that building will always have the same walls and roof and windows and doors. The angles and the slope and the pitch of things will always be the same.

If you can’t make sense of what you see, closing your eyes and opening them again is not going to help. If you try it enough times, eventually your eyes may begin to play trick on you. They may begin to see things that aren’t really there. Just like an optical illusion, you can think you see it a different way. But you don’t. It didn’t change.

There is only one way to make what you see in front of you different. You have to get up. Up from where you planted yourself. You have to stand up and move to another spot.

It doesn’t change things.

The building is still a cube. The walls and roof and the windows and the doors. They didn’t change. But the way you see it has.

My life is just like that spot. All around me are things that are black and white. They are schools of thinking that have only one answer. They are diagnosis and diseases and relationships that have no room for interpretation. They are what they are. That will never change.

But there are these fountains. They seem to spring up from nothing. Whimsical and playful and completely unexpected.

If you plant yourself at many spots around them, they don’t make sense. You have to squint your eyes just to even begin to see where one form starts and the other stops. It’s gritty and tangled and nearly impossible to reproduce in any way that would be recognizable, let alone pleasing.

But then there is this other spot. This one place where if you stand and look at just the right time and in just the right way, what you can see takes your breath away. These two concrete forms begin to take on life and they don’t just exist in the same scape, they begin to interact with each other, almost as if they have this dialog that doesn’t need words.

You can capture that image on paper, it is visually stunning and it makes people stop to stare into it. An image that, had you not moved, would have been lost forever.

It’s all about perspective.

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  • Corie Clark

    This is great, Heather! It is so true and really applies to all situations. We can always find a better perspective of things. Thanks for the great reminder!

  • Jennifer Kaufman

    Oh my gosh, Heather, this is so beautiful. Been reflecting on perspective a lot today, myself.

  • aprilbest1981

    I just finished The Noticer by Andy Andrews and that was a lot about perspective…learning to change my perspective, or rather learning to let God determine my perspective…has been a life saver especially when it comes to anxiety and depression