Sunday, March 19, 2017

Issues of Seeing and Recognizing

This is a week where two of the lectionary texts (I Samuel 16;1-13 and John 9:1-41, Lent 4A) give us the opportunity to consider issues of seeing and recognizing. In the Hebrew scripture reading, we learn that God sees us differently than we see ourselves or others. In the gospel reading, a man doesn't see at all and then does see, while his family and religious officials are blind throughout the text.

When we look at another person, who do we see? Do we see people only in familiar ways - looking only at surface appearances? Do we see people in new ways - seeing potential rather than current circumstances? Are we able to see the things in front of us and recognize them for who and what they are? Or are we blind despite the fact that we can see?

Artist Chuck Close has made his reputation painting faces in large format. His own face is among his most frequent subjects. His earliest works are photographically real. The faces are recognizable -- so photographically real that the individuals would be recognizable by strangers, even, As his work develops, though, the faces begin to dissolve and fragment. The practice of gridding, often used by artists to keep proportion correct when enlarging, comes to the front of the portrait's appearance and becomes, even more than the subject's facial features, the driving force of the portrait's structure..

All works by Chuck Close in the collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN. (Top left) Big Self-Portrait, 1967. (Bottom left) Self Portrait, 1995. (Top right) Self Portrait, 2000. (Bottom right) Self Portrait, 2002.

Close's portraits and this week's texts invite us to ask questions:
  • How much of recognition is about physical appearance? 
  • Just because we recognize someone's physical appearance, do we really see them?
  • How can less focus on physical appearance tell us about the person at whom we are looking?
  • How often do we let structures of the world direct how we see the world and people in the world?
  • Is there a "grid" or structure that God superimposes on us in order to see us as God sees?
  • How much of our understanding of God is rooted in the flesh? Do we need to see to believe?
  • Do you see the face of God in the face of every human being?
Chuck Close's portraiture helps us ask questions about seeing and recognizing. That it is Close whose work helps with those questions is even more interesting when you know that the artist has prosopagnosia, more commonly known as face blindness. The artist can see the elements of faces - eyes, noses, mouths - but cannot put them together in a way that leaves any impression on his memory. You could meet someone with prosopagnosia one day, and the next day they would not recognize you. Sometimes a person with prosopagnosia does not even recognize her or his own face.

Surely we are not blind, are we? But how much do we really see?

This week on Art&Faith Matters on we see color differently. Click here.

1 comment:

  1. I see the face of God in not only every human being, but in every being.