Reflecting on her career, Californian painter Helen Lundeberg remarked, ‘I’ve been looking all my life, it was one of my favorite occupations … And when I was a kid and we went for … Sunday afternoon drives … I was always in the back seat, looking at everything.’
I appreciate both her pleasure in looking and the suggestion that it is a lifelong habit.
I began studying art history when the discipline was in transition. Initial encounters with the likes of Millard Miess and Erwin Panofksy gave way to Roland Barthes, Dick Hebidge and
T J Clark. Although this suggests a passage from ‘classical’ to ‘new’ art history, all were united in their commitment to intense and imaginative scrutiny.
Beyond the formality of art history, I’ve always been attracted to good lookers; Virginia Woolf, Richard Jefferies, John Brinckerhoff Jackson. All of them exhorting their readers, as Jefferies did, to ‘Open your eyes and see those things which are around us at this hour’. All of them happy to fuse the pleasure principle and the will to know in the act of looking. As Jefferies put it, ‘If once you look over the side of a boat into the clear sea—you must continue looking. The depth fascinates the mind.’
Here, I re-present my own efforts at looking, dating back to the early 1980s, as well as current observations.