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An exercise in looking

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Look at this painting. It's by Seattle artist David Noah Giles who used to be Tacoma artist David N. Goldberg.

Now look again. And again. You'll notice that at first glance you see a field of random blue and orange squiggles on a white background. Then you notice something you hadn't seen at first: that the background is not all white after all. It's yellow and white, and the yellow parts seem to almost pulsate as if they want to expand beyond the surface of the canvas. One of the peculiarities of color is that color is never static; it has many properties such as hue, value and intensity, and each of these values change in appearance depending on what other colors are next to them. The yellow in this instance looks much more intense than it actually is, primarily because it is surrounded by a lot of white. You see, in terms of value, meaning the darkness or lightness of a color, yellow is so high in value that its hue (the property that makes yellow yellow) cannot be fully appreciated unless it is adjacent to a color of higher value, and the only color that's higher in value than yellow is white. And by-the-way, if you focus just on the yellow you'll see that it's really not yellow at all but a kind of tan. Very dull, in fact.

Keep looking. Focus now on the orange and blue marks. You'll see that they are not as intense as they appear when taking in the whole painting. They appear more intense because they are complementary colors. The contrasts of opposites intensify each.

You'll also notice that the blue and orange marks are not as random as they first appeared. The blue marks form a circle which surrounds an inner circle that is orange. There's a partial outer ring that is an indescribable color, almost black, and then another orange circle outside of this one. It's a target.

Keep looking and let your imagination run wild and you'll begin to see things you didn't notice before. There's a face. There are musical notes and Chinese letters and a little upside-down diving figure. There are also color variations so subtle that... sorry... they don't' show up in a photograph. There are, for instance, pink splotches that don't show in the photograph.

There's a point in all of this detailed description. What I have just demonstrated is what hardly anyone ever does when looking at art in a gallery, and that is to really look. Most people look at each painting in an exhibition for a few seconds only, never long enough to really see. I would encourage every reader of this column to try this the next time you're in a gallery or museum: pick out a work of art and while looking at it try to mentally describe it as if you are telling a blind person what you are looking at. Try describing it in the same way I just described this painting to you - non-judgmentally. You'll notice I said nothing about whether the painting in question is good art. For what it's worth, I do think this is a good painting, but the point is that if you try and notice every minute detail in a work of art without passing judgment your appreciation and the joy art brings to you will increase ten-fold. You're welcome.

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