Seeing is Believing

So ask yourself. What ideas or insights are you more likely to believe: those that someone tells you you should or must believe, or those that you discover yourself? Once we reach the age of reason, most of us prefer to make up our own minds and discover for ourselves.  So the trial lawyer knows that the advocate’s role is to lead the jury to discover the answer for themselves.  Nobody wants to feel that they are being spoon fed a conclusion.  “Because I said so,” works for only a while in parenting, but then has to yield to better arts of persuasion based on crediting the mind of the other. Someone who bypasses the facts and goes right to his opinion is less persuasive because the listener isn’t being shown the facts for the listener herself to weigh.

Masterpieces of artwork let us discover what’s going on for ourselves.  They don’t spoon feed. They allow us to think, interpret, weigh and form judgments.  We are free to say “I like this painting” or “I don’t like that painting”.   Sometimes we think it must be our fault if we don’t “get” a painting.   But maybe it’s the fault of the painting itself. Maybe there’s nothing there to get.  Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes centuries, but a masterpiece becomes one because enough people over time have discovered for themselves its meaning and value. 

One (but not the only) way masterpieces do this is by presenting a story—a visual story.   Visual stories let the viewer find meaning visually.   One of the most daring  visual stories ever painted is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel…and not just because painting on your back seventy feet above a stone floor is, well,  daring.   It’s the Big Story, painted for a Big Audience that included the High Renaissance public, a demanding Pope and, in the painter’s mind, the Deity: nothing less than the story of creation, the human condition, heaven and hell, final judgment…it’s all there to discover.

The daring Renaissance idea was that seeing would lead to wonder, that the visual quest of looking up, letting the eyes journey from scene to scene, story to story, would say to the viewer:  open your eyes  and wonder for yourself.


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