We all fall into patterns and assumptions that are hard to break, but which prevent us from seeing things how they really are. We develop blind spots. We are all susceptible to this and often overcoming these blind spots requires substantial insight and imagination. We find it hard to know what we don’t know. When we draw what we see, we often draw what we think we see instead. It is incredibly hard to honestly reproduce what we observe, without bias, prejudice, assumptions, conditioning and plain old mental laziness. It’s hard enough to pay sufficient attention to accurately observe all that is before us. It is for this reason that portraiture is such a challenging thing. Getting a likeness and the right proportions takes a great deal of practice and the ability to break through our blind spots. Nobody is immune. We all have blind spots.
Here’s a large scale example of this mental phenomenon which demonstrates how millions of people can all share the same blind spot. Greece is in trouble. Their debts are now so large that political stability within the country is threatened. The population has withstood round after round of austerity measures and will no longer tolerate further cuts and greater unemployment or economic decay. There is a real danger that somebody is going to die.
In the media, we often see heated debates with spokesmen for the people and for the government all asserting their cases – one for limiting the extent of the austerity and the other claiming that the debts must be repaid and that there is no other option. As viewers and listeners, we observe these debates and agree that it is very serious and that something must be done, but what we think should be the solution will be detrimental to either the people or the government. No other solution seems to be up for discussion.
But there is something we are all missing. We are looking, but we cannot see.
Behind the debt obligation there is somebody, somewhere, insisting that they are paid according to the terms of the original loan (or loans). Banks are not robots. Ultimately, they have owners who seem entirely indifferent to the suffering and instability their insistence in adhering to the original terms is causing. These lenders can define any terms they like, in reality. There is nothing written in stone by God about the loan interest rates or duration. It’s all down to the decisions of the individuals that made the loans. But who are those individuals? Where are they? Do we ever hear from them in the media, in the heated debates about the crisis? Are they ever asked to justify their position, in light of the consequences? Are they ever held to account in a public forum? What we observe, but cannot see, is that these people deny their responsibility for the consequences of their actions and are not even prepared to be identified, so that they can be held to account, in public, for their position. Perhaps the media thinks it would be rude or impudent to even ask them. Perhaps they’ve never even considered questioning the assumptions. It may be that the ultimate lenders have a very different purpose and agenda in creating this crisis, but without the media confronting them and asking them to explain their position to all of us directly, we will never know.
Such a position is sociopathic at best and bordering on psychopathic. The lenders must know that they have precipitated a crisis in which people may die, yet they do not care. They care only about their own interests. Ought society to permit psychopathological behaviour by any person, when it has such devastating consequences? Are we prepared to continue to maintain a position of not asking the wizard behind the curtain to show himself and explain his actions?
Most people don’t even notice that a key participant and stakeholder in the entire story is only represented by assumptive proxy. It is presented to us as an axiomatic given that their position is the only possible position they may hold. The assumption is never questioned. We remain blind to reality. We therefore misrepresent it as grossly and in as distorted a way as the very worst draftsman renders a face.
Artists know that once you observe the figure’s outline, you still need to measure, to compare, to see the outlines and spaces between them, to imagine the internal geometry and to observe closer still to capture the smaller details. John Singer Sargent held that in order to draw a face accurately, you first had to be able to see, with your mind’s eye, the skull shape beneath and having seen that, determine how to hang the flesh off that frame. So much of the work of an artist is finding ways to overcome our blind spots. We need to find new ways of looking, representing and visualizing our subject, so that we can achieve some semblance of likeness. Alternatively, if realistic representation is not the goal, we have to develop ways to help our audience see the image in a new light, perhaps with different colours, perspectives or tonal values imposed by the artist as an assertive statement of a different point of view.
Overcoming blind spots requires that artists find new ways to see. It takes courage, honesty, intelligence, sensitivity, imagination and diligence. It’s a skill we can use in many spheres of our lives.