I gazed and gazed

Kate stands center stage next to a digital projector holding a remote. A white wall or projection screen is behind her.

Kate: How long is the right amount to look at something to see it?

Kate presses the remote and an image of a painting on a white gallery wall appears.

Kate: This bothers me when I go to museums. I stand in front of an artwork for a period of time and feel a creeping unsureness about whether or not I am spending the right amount of time looking at it. Is the right amount thirty seconds? A minute? Should I count? How would I know when I had really gotten a good look and seen what I was supposed to see?

Kate presses the remote and an image of a sunset appears.

Kate: Sunsets and sunrises pose another seeing problem. I want to see and be aware of each moment of change as the sun sinks or rises. But the earth turns so slowly I can’t actually perceive the change. I can only tell when difference has occurred when I look away for a minute or so. I end up feeling frustrated that some part of the experience of seeing it has passed me by.

Kate presses the remote and an image of a whale spouting in the ocean appears.

Kate: Whale watching brings up similar anxieties. Fear of missing a crest of a tail or a spurt of foam in the distance keeps my eyes glued to the water, hunting for any sign of the whales. I never know if I’m looking in the right place for the right amount of time. This leads to combined strategy of constantly scanning the water in long sweeps punctuated by staring unwaveringly at a single area where the whale once was. The feeling of my eyes perpetually being in the wrong place overwhelms me.

Kate presses the remote and an image of a magic eye poster appears.

Kate: The only situation where I’ve known that I’ve taken the right amount of time to look at something is with magic eye posters. I stare at them for a while and then when my eyes relax, I can unfocus them just the right amount to reveal the image hidden in the kaleidoscope pattern. As soon as I see the hidden image, I know I’ve looked long enough. I’ve seen what it has to show me.

Kate: It might be that I’m not using the magic eye process widely enough. Want to try an experiment with me?

Kate encourages affirmative responses from the audience.

Kate: Okay. The next time any of us are at a museum or watching a sunrise or sunset or looking for whales try the magic eye technique. Stare at them for a while. When our eyes relax, let them unfocus slightly. Repeat the process until you see the hidden thing inside them.

Kate presses the remote and an image of her website url and email address appears.

Kate: I’ll post my results on my website, and if you could email me your results, I’ll share them.


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