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  • Bianca Vinther

Seeing like an artist: the secret revealed

What does it mean to you to see like an artist?

Stormy weather, rain clouds, strong wind
"Stormy feelings". Charcoal and pencil on handmade paper by Bianca Vinther

You must have asked yourself before what it means to see like an artist. If you haven’t found a simple answer to this complex question yet, you might find this blog post useful. Because understanding what it actually means to see like an artist can help you overcome artist block, boost your artistic creativity, and find new inspiration for your art.

Visual artists see differently. They see beyond appearances and the limits of physical vision. They disrupt conventions and make free associations between objects, concepts, forms, colours, surfaces, feelings, memories, symbols, words … Furthermore, they see tonal values and notice patterns, intensities, and textures that other people don’t. In a nutshell, visual artists create unique artworks in the broadest sense of the word. Therefore, they don’t copy, reproduce, or imitate anything. They don’t search for the perfect representation of empirical reality, but they find and transform usual and familiar things into something else that is per se unique and different.

“Art needs a withinness” (Marc Chagall) that only artists can capture. Because artists see from within, and they question conventional truths and the world outside. Just like the little round-headed fellow called Oblio, the protagonist of the American animated film The Point!, who has inspired the concept of this blog.

To see like an artist is to find

For me, seeing like an artist is a personal way of seeing that is in its essence more abstract than familiar-figurative. It is both perception and insight, a result of intense observation and relentless practice.

For instance, when I look up at the sky (a recurrent theme in my artwork, by the way), I do not see clouds drifting over the surface of the earth. Because, if I did so, they would have nothing to say to me. What I actually look at is inside me: movement, tensions, contrasts, colours, and intensities that I need to express on my paper or canvas. And what I actually see are surfaces and tonal values, rhythm, and composition, that is art elements rather than the usual figurative forms. I’m the sky, and the sky is within me.

Stormy weather, rainy clouds, strong wind
"Stormy feelings" (detail). Charcoal and pencil on handmade paper by Bianca Vinther

Seeing like an artist is not about searching but about watching actively and finding. It’s about being sensitive and inquisitive about yourself and the world around you and perceiving yourself and the rest of the world as one.

I do not seek, I find.” (Pablo Picasso)

In the seminal book Ways of Seeing published in 1972 and based on the homonym BBC television series, John Berger argues that seeing is not neutral. It is always a way of seeing. We do not just look at things, but we always look at the relationship between ourselves and things. And none of us has an uncritical relationship with the world. By looking at things, we establish our place within the world.