Today’s quote is actually the title of a biography of contemporary artist Robert Irwin by author Lawrence Weschler. The title itself is intriguing enough, but after skimming the reviews it would appear to be a very worthwhile read. Here’s the quote again:
Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.
Fascinating. This is less of a design-centric quote and more just about art (even life!) in general. I would love to think of myself as someone who spends more time observing than they spend speaking, however true that may or may not be. I was always told in art class to focus on what the object looks like, not just what you think it looks like. Turn the image upside down and copy it. Look back at the subject every three seconds because your brain cannot remember what it saw after that. So, this quote is a natural extension of that foundational artistic training. If you forget that what you’re drawing is a cup, you’ll be able to abandon your preconceived notions of how a cup should look and not be skewed by that bias. And just because you’re painting a white polar bear, that does not mean that the polar bear is white.
However, as I stated previously, this quote extends beyond the realm of fine art. In design, for example, forgetting the name of your target market group allows you to get rid of what you think they like and dig deeper to find what will really capture that group. Forgetting that work is your own allows you to look at it more objectively and fix the problems you see (i.e. it becomes “someone’s” work instead of “my” work).
In an even larger context, “forgetting the name of the thing one sees” is the basis of everything from problem-solving to treating others with empathy. I can forget that you’re a Royals fan and I’m a Jays fan and we can agree on the fact that we both enjoy watching highly competitive baseball games. I can approach a seemingly impossible problem by working from basic questions like “what is it?” instead of starting with what has already been done.
I’m not saying that I’m going to get this quote tattooed, but I think it is probably the most important concept I have featured so far. At the very least, I’m going to read that book.
Until next time,