For those of you who don’t know, I’m an art student. I spend most of my class time during the school year in the Calder Art and Design building at Grand Valley. I am taught how to create art, while in conjunction I am taught to be a better artist. Part of what is implied in that, is that I am taught the importance of looking.
We see things every wakeful moment of our lives. We see our car, the road, our papers, random people…we see everything that happens to come across our field of vision. Perhaps even in our sleep we see things, as images animate our dreams. The point is, seeing is a normal, unconscious part of our everyday lives.
To look at something is another matter entirely. While seeing is just passively taking in our surroundings, looking is an active choice. In looking we engage with our surroundings and study them–interpret them.
To be made to look, to try to get someone else to look at you or at something you want to be noticed, or to engage in an exchange of looks, entails a play of power. Looking can be easy or difficult, fun or unpleasant, harmless or dangerous. There are both conscious and unconscious levels of looking. We engage in practices of looking to communicate, to influence and be influenced.
This excerpt from “Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture” by Marita Sturken and Lisa Carthwright, shows another aspect of looking. When we look at something, we acknowledge that that thing (and/or whatever pointed us to that thing) has a certain power or authority. We, consciously or unconsciously, make the decision that it is important enough to demand our attention.
In art, the concept of looking is hugely important. For one thing, the artist must be actively looking at a thing or idea–studying and understanding that subject matter–in order to make a representation of it. If I were to draw a simple sketch of a rose, I actively would have to make myself aware of the curves of the petals, each change in value, where each leaf and thorn is located, what kind of textures are involved, etc. I would need to have a certain understanding of the rose.
Secondly though, the idea of looking is important for the artist as he or she considers what is going to be created and how. The artist wants his work to be viewed (looked at). Thus it must be created in a way that it demands people to look at it (it has a certain power).
This idea of looking and seeing transfers over wonderfully into our spiritual lives, in respect to how we view God and His Holy Word. We cannot help but see. As it is written in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” We see God everywhere, because all of creation gives testimony of its Creator. We as church members are also constantly hearing the preaching of the Word, whether it be at church, during family devotions, in Bible studies, etc. “Seeing” God and His Word is an inevitable part of life, which is why the wicked are left without excuse.
However, “looking” is another matter entirely. It is to search, it is to understand, and it is to recognize power and importance. God’s Word surely has power and importance in our lives! As Prof. Gritters recently reminded our church, God is life. There is no life apart from Him! Because He has chosen us as His own, we love Him and follow Him. And so consequently we give our attention to Him.
To be “looking” we are to be aware and actively studying, searching, and laying to heart. We search for God and seek to understand Him and our relationship with Him. We do not simply sit back passively and expect God’s Word to wiggle itself into our brain. We study it and keep it with us! We purpose our lives according to it! We remember that God has ultimate authority in our lives.
As Christians, we aren’t to be passive. As the Psalmist writes, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105). We “Study to shew [ourselves] approved unto God, [workmen] that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We are to know the importance of looking.