Looking Deeply

Anna Horsnell

There’s an old garage at the end of the driveway, a rectangular box shaped by sunlight and shadow. The soft gray-green asphalt of the gable roof lies smooth, each shingle defined by thin shadowed edges. A small dark bird balances on a piece of loose soffit under the eaves, then flutters and disappears behind the fascia board where she’s hidden her nest. Each horizontal length of wooden siding overlaps the next with a slightly irregular edge; the short edges curling outward where they butt up against a narrow dark window in the gable end. The exterior walls are painted an aged white, the colour of cream smudged with dust and pollen. On the shadowed side, two doors painted deep brown, one a garage opening, the other also supporting a battered gray aluminum screen door lying open and flat against the outside wall. Against a bright blue sky, the sun climbs high overhead deepening the shadows under the eaves, and below, a thick mass of tall grass woven with bright yellow dandelions encircles the foundation.

Details take time. Time to observe carefully. Time to define and understand. Details often blur with a quick glance, our eye skimming past, our mind content this thing offers no threat or real interest. Most visual artists take the time however. They begin slowly, soaking in the details of shape and colour, dimension and perspective. And then, depending on their artistic style and inspiration, they may decide to omit certain details, smudge lines or maybe simplify the whole image as they respond and translate what they see. Abstraction lies at the far end of that path, as the artist turns inward for details of colour, shape, composition, and purpose.

Details we see by looking deeply can lead to understanding. I like to think an artist offers understanding by sharing certain details, by bringing things into focus, by stopping time for revelation. That detail may be subtle or intricate, but by focusing our attention on what they saw, the artist provides us with an opportunity to stop, to look again, to gain insight and maybe rethink our understanding.

Our society, our culture, our pace of life seems to be leaning heavy on the gas pedal. We are inundated with information that races at us full throttle from every direction. That’s a lot of detail to manage very quickly. Detail that can be overlooked or misunderstood. Detail that might hold answers or solutions or clarification. At the same time, we are drowning in the sheer volume of detail, often in the pursuit of more. Maybe it’s time to slow down and look deeply at less.

This artist is taking the summer to push the pause button and look a little closer. Globally, many of us had that exact opportunity over the last two and a half years. Personally, it felt good. There’s a lot to be gained in the details, and less of one thing quite often means more of something else. Less stuff, more freedom. Look deeply and enjoy your summer.

Artist and writer Anna Horsnell is looking forward to a summer of less stuff and more time to notice details. It hopefully will become a habit. Visit her website at annahorsnell.ca.