A couple of months ago I wrote a blog about how the constant exchange of art works through The Collective meant that what’s on our walls would never become “invisible”. Instead, our domestic spaces assumed a more dynamic nature that changed in aspect and feel every time we had an “exchange”.This made us pay more attention to their detail, even when you have had them before, as it was more akin to a new acquisition “with a certain familiarity” every time they returned to your home.
The idea of an art work, or any item on a wall, becoming “invisible” because it remains in the same place for many years was put to the test recently, albeit inadvertently, in our own house.
We have a large screen print by a well-known artist that is very distinctive. I am particularly fond of this piece though it is not part of the Collective’s Collection. Apart from being a wonderful work, it has a history and memories associated with it that hold great significance for me personally. Every morning as I eat breakfast in my kitchen I can see the work on the wall, through the door in the next room. And every morning it reassures me and inspires me, as I look at it and see it there in its particular location. I never tire of looking at it. It’s been there for years and I watch it change with the different seasons as mornings get lighter and then darker ,and through all the associated light changes that come with our weather and hit our dining room in the morning.
The work needed reframing which we had discussed on numerous occasions and as Tim knew the appropriate framers I was going to leave it to him. Time passed and still we hadn’t managed to do it and now it also needed some conservation work.
This year, on my birthday, Tim presented me with what appeared to be a large art work, all wrapped up as it was. I was excited! When I opened it, it was the very same screen print that was on our wall in its usual place. How had that happened? Only then did I really notice.
Unobserved by me, Tim had taken down the original, had a good photocopy done, reinserted it in to the old frame and taken the original screen print to the framers where it was now presented in a brand new perfectly finished frame, fully restored and even more of a spectacle than before. I was stunned – how could I have not noticed?
Only once had I speculated that the colour looked different but thought it was nothing more than a trick of the eye with the particular light of that morning. I had ceased to observe it properly, but just viewed it from a distance in its rightful place. It’s detail had in fact become invisible and what mattered more was that it was just “there”.
There is an established science around “familiarity“and psychologists have discovered that there is a “happiness directly correlated to how many thing we are familiar with”. But why are familiar things more “likeable” ? Are our brains lazy or is it that “familiar things make us feel more comfortable“? The answer is “yes”,they do – they reassure us, provide landmarks amidst all life’s uncertainties and anchors in our domestic spaces. In this case the anchor was the art work that never moved from its place. The trouble is that in the process of making us feel more comfortable our brains stop to really notice and a layer of “invisibility” is created. We only really sit up and see when something changes significantly. This is of course why the the constant change of the Collective art works provide so much stimulation and interest because we, and all visitors to our houses, have grown to expect change and notice more readily when they see the new or returned art works.
I’m still astonished I failed to notice the substitute, but it struck me how true the assertion was that familiarity creates invisibility. Perhaps the difference between looking and seeing.
When did you last ‘see’ a familiar object that you look at every day ? You might learn something new!