Perspective. We use it every day, just going about our lives, but how?
We find it in acts like decision-making, sight-seeing, drawing, putting on makeup. We usually aren’t aware of using it, but once we direct our awareness toward perspective, some pretty amazing things can happen. We’ve all heard that saying, “a little perspective goes a long way.” There is certainly an element of truth to be found in it.
We can first look at perspective from a physical point of view. Like many of you, I first learned about physical perspective (known in the making of two-dimensional artwork as linear perspective) in middle school art class. We sat down with our papers and rulers, tracing our horizon lines and marking out our vanishing points in the very center of the paper. I remember our task was to draw railroad tracks disappearing into the horizon, framed by a couple of buildings and some telephone lines. It was a simple one point perspective drawing, but happened to be my favorite project of the year. I was excited at how much more believable my drawing became using these techniques. Point perspective refers to how many vanishing points are along the horizon line, as I’ve illustrated in the photos below.
In creating art, there are varying degrees of perspective that can be used. Per usual, we can thank Leonardo daVinci for refining these through countless hours of studying nature and light until he came up with rules for what he referred to as aerial perspective. He even invented a device called a “perspectograph” to assist painters in achieving proper perspective. You can read more about this here.
To use a perspectograph, the artist looks through a limited viewing hole, which helps focus the eye on the horizon and make it easier to pick out one or multiple vanishing points and any other defining features of the scene. This device, in essence, helps an artist to hone in with their awareness to trace the outline of the landscape or objects in front of them.
It could be said that perspective is what ensures the success of any landscape painting or drawing. However, when it comes to more abstract artwork, sometimes the lack of perspective is what makes the piece engaging. I am thinking now of Monet’s series of water lily paintings. He made over 200 of these oil paintings, some with a horizon line specified by a bridge going over the pond, some with a horizon line visible only in the reflection of the water. In other paintings, he ditches the horizon altogether, showing the viewer only lily pads floating on the water. We lose a sense of space, but gain more sense of the colors in relation to one another. On one hand we can say that the perspective has been distorted or lost because there is no vanishing point. On the other hand, we must consider the perspective of Monet, not just Monet’s perspective. Have I lost you yet? What I mean to say is that Monet, using his awareness of and focus on the scene before him, made the conscious decision to crop out the surrounding horizon. It took some internal perspective to make such a decision. Indeed, in a work like Wisteria (1925), we wouldn’t necessary come to the conclusion that it is depicting reflections of flowers in water. Without this prior knowledge, our minds wouldn’t try as hard to find distinct figures or shapes, but focus instead on colors and brushstrokes.
You’re starting to see the shift here I’m sure, from exploring physical perspective to examining mental perspective. We can think of mental perspective in terms of psychology and the way we perceive the world around us, that is to say the perspective of our awareness. I stumbled upon this article by Ohio State students, Lisa K. Libby and Richard P. Eibach that was very helpful in describing our internal awareness when considering past or future events. This generally comes in the form of first person perspective (I am walking) or third person perspective (Steph is walking). It’s easy to see how, when thinking of past actions, we could take a third person view and perhaps when thinking of the future, we could visualize ourselves immersed in that future moment as the first person.
There is another form of mental perspective of which I am thinking as well, one that occurs in the present moment. Coming back again to the perspective of Monet in which he was able to formulate the idea of losing the linear perspective in his paintings. This internal awareness is where we are able to contemplate on ideas, not just actions. Meditation fully engages us in this perspective. We slowly turn off our senses and focus on a single thing, sometimes this is just connecting with our breath, other times it’s to dwell upon things like relativity. Albert Einstein was known to practice thought experiments and transcendental meditation, out of which it is said came some of his greatest theories. Steve Jobs spent periods of time at meditation centers where he found inspiration that led to some of the greatest successes of Apple. I won’t get into listing all the benefits of meditation today, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a little third eye perspective too.
This brings me now to the topic that got me thinking about all this in the first place: the drishti. Drishti refers to the spot where we focus our gaze while holding a yoga pose or during meditation. There are 9 different drishti points, each with their own use and purpose. (More on this here). Being able to successfully hold our gaze during yoga helps us increase balance, limit outside distractions, and completes the mind-body-spirit connection. Being able to focus and clear the mind in our practice will enable our poses to go deeper and be held longer, contributing to our success as yogis.
Perspective goes a long way. Becoming more aware of the perspective we choose to take is important to maintain throughout our lives. The world we live in today is more connected than ever before, opening our eyes to the perspectives of others, yet in some ways it seems as though we are more divided now than ever. Willingness to acknowledge and accept that there are those with different perspectives from us will help to unify us. Being able to see beyond race, religion, handicap, financial status, et cetera, is imperative to our peaceful future together. With all the chaos going on right now between the election, the DAPL, tragedies involving black citizens and police officers, the woes of all the migrants just looking for a place to start their lives over, everyone needs a drishti spot to bring them balance, positivity, and connectedness.