What Being a Person Trained to See Feels Like

Trained eyes don’t function like untrained eyes, because they are trained to see more. It is never simply a chair, a website, a ketchup bottle, or a printed word. It is grids and geometry. It is a series of decisions made by someone else. It is technical limitations in a world that inherently hates limitations.

Visual training is a strange process with no expiration date. You are not born with the ability to see. Yes, your system perceives shapes and colors around you, because your biology is built that way. Inherently though, you are blind, because your brain fills in what it wants to see, ignoring everything else.

Growing up with an artist and an art educator for a mother helped me develop my visual skills from a young age. I don’t remember when I started drawing, and I took my first advanced painting class at the age of 13. I would spend days trying to imitate the light play taking place on the faceted surface of a crystal water vase.

Yet, even with that, when I was a freshman art student, I sat in the studio of Jordan University horrified at my own blindness. I could see that the surface of the Venus I was trying to replicate on paper was more curved at the bottom because of the light and shade, but my eye perceived it as straight, because the actual sculpture was straight. I yelled at my brain a lot that semester, going into conversations with myself about the insanity of how humans are built. The brain imagines the way things look based on per-conceived notions, and it’s hard to unimagine. Drawing is actually really easy when you convince your stupid brain to stop seeing on its own. It took a while, but I was eventually successful.

You are not born with the ability to see. Your eyes don’t see anything. Your brain is the one working.

I am lucky to be able to see how the beveled shadows beneath modal boxes on websites give an impression of depth. I am lucky to be able to see how the serifs on that sign make it more legible from a distance. I am lucky to be able to see that that color isn’t orange at all, it’s actually a combination of cyan, white, and magenta.

Being able to see is poetic. Life becomes much more beautiful, and much more ugly. Start training yourself, because you could be blind right now.

The best way to start training is to add a layer of “why?” to your thought process. Of course, not everything around you is built with intent, but many things are, especially in nature, thanks to evolution. Why is the tree curved like that? Why is the website based on three columns? Why is the poster using that particular typeface? Why does the shadow look like it’s curved?

Why?






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