The art of observation

Ted Mooney, the author of several novels, including the most recent thriller, The Same River Twice, is also a teacher at the Yale University School of Art. He is in the enviable position of combining unique skills, both as an accomplished art critic and as a narrator. In a recent podcast interview, Mooney described how he spends time trying to capture the essence of a place. I found his comments on observation useful for anyone who likes to travel or is interested in writing.
What I do when I visit a city... I spend fourteen-sixteen hours a day on the street. And if you just look -- and I do owe this to my years in the art world, I think, in some way -- if you keep your eyes open, and look at everything as if you've never seen anything of that kind before, you discover amazing things. They are all there to be seen.

If you stand in front of an art work of even medium value, you really have to spend some time clearing your mind of words -- utterly -- and just begin to look and keep yourself as blank as possible, for as long as possible, and you will begin to see the relations of things, how they fit or don't, and eventually you'll be able to see the object whole and then you can start letting words come in again and they will be the right words.

If you do the same thing at a street corner, it works too, by the way. You need to see the things that the people who live in that place can't see because they have their own routine

To read a review of Ted Mooney's latest novel, see Worlds of Trouble
For an interview with the writer, see Malcolm Love's conversation, posted on The Current Reader.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Renato -- great subject. I interviewed Ted Mooney last week and he mentioned his habit of concentrated observation as a means to unlock meaning underneath the surface. If you want to read it, its here:
    Mooney's latest book is an excellent read, too.
    I'm working my way thru your posts. Very nice site!