Knowing, Thinking and Looking

“Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”

– Goethe

An interesting hierarchy.

I agree with the first part – knowing means there are fewer possibilities, and possibility is what keeps our interest. Some people may believe knowing is supreme, but as an artist, I think it leads to stagnation.

The second part is less obvious to me. Which would you prefer to do, think or look? Both contain endless possibilities. Thinking involves our imagination, a realm that has vast potential. Looking is such a rich experience and often we see things we could not imagine.

As an artist, I believe both are crucial and need to be developed. When I want to explore my creativity I will often look at my work and think about how I could change it, what concept I want to explore, what techniques I want to use, what I am trying to express, what should I strive to make different, etc. This thought process usually feels more like a contemplation than thinking, but it is an active use of my mind. At times like these I also pay more attention to what I’m looking at, how I’m looking, where I’m looking, etc. Without focusing on looking in this way, I lack the raw material my new work will need.

I guess I’ll continue to try to be a thoughtful observer in search of a few more pieces of art…

2 responses to “Knowing, Thinking and Looking

  1. Another great quote to get our teeth into, Bob!

    I agree with your premise that the second part is less obvious, which leads me to wonder: is this the accepted translation of Goethe’s original German? Perhaps if we replace “looking” with “searching” or “seeking” then the quote stands better scrutiny.

    The search for knowledge is surely interesting, as is the natural by-product of having mysteries gradually revealed to us – the steady drip, drip, drip of enlightenment fuels the creative process.

    Trying to find a musical parallel to your stepping back and looking at your work, I often find I make the greatest leaps forward, or the most pertinent changes to a new piece of music when I return to it the following day and listen to it with fresh ears. This becomes a problem if, some months down the line, I listen to what I considered to be a finished song and find I could improve it. This is a whole other debate, which I think you’ve explored in a previous post – just when is a work of art/piece of music actually finished?

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