Ways of seeing

The act of seeing should challenge you. Art is about teaching you to see beauty in ways you don’t yet know or understand.


I tweeted this after thinking about how weak our ability to perceive beauty can be. I’ve never put much stock in conventional beauty. Beauty that is easy to access and that everyone sees in plain view – what is it worth to you? When I ask a man why he is attracted to me, the answer I’m looking for is never, “You’re beautiful.” Really? You hardly know me. Give me half an hour with your back up against the wall and I’ll show you what beauty is.


My favourite art class will always be life drawing and my favourite exercise is the gesture. You have 10-60 seconds to capture the essence of a pose, to express what the model is giving you. And every model gave me something different but it was always, always, always beautiful. This beauty had nothing to do with conventional beauty. These models were all stripped bare before you in some important way; you could not deny the reality of their nakedness. Their beauty was an expression of the movement, the life force, of their personhood.

I knew if I only focused on the surface, my gestures would never be anything more than pretty, superficial, technically precise pictures that are a dime a dozen. The best gestures are the ones in which you immediately recognize which model was posing from just a few lines and scratches because you’ve managed to transmutate something genuine from someone through your vision and out your hands. You’ve only got 30 seconds; what are you going to commit to paper?

With time, I learned to feel those gestures right down to my cells. On a good day, if a model was leaning heavily on her thighs, my own thighs would ache; if his arm was held aloft for too long, my bicep would respond. This is how I learned that beauty is not about capturing or perfecting an image, but connecting vision to flesh and emotion. And that is why conventional beauty has nothing to do with desire for me. I don’t want perfectly posed and framed images. I want that fucking connection. I want to feel you move through me, right down to my cells.

Erotic attraction doesn’t come from six inch stilettos and posing with an arched back unless you’ve a lazy imagination. There’s the cheap and easy visual pleasure we get shoved down our throats every day and then there is erotic beauty. You will know that beauty by the way it challenges you, grips you by the throat, hisses in your ear and dares you to gaze upon its terrible power – and then dares you to try to tear your gaze away. Eroticism is about trespassing the boundaries of selfhood so that when you look into someone’s eyes, there is absolutely nothing in your fucking way. So you can take your zero dress size and six pack abs and professionally straightened teeth, thank you. Because that’s not the kind of beauty I care to cultivate in my life.

I don’t consider myself an artist, but I do think about how I see and perceive the world. And I believe that one role of an artist is to trespass the boundaries of your perception in the way Eros will trespass the boundaries of your heart and being. Some artists give us beautifully familiar images, but others must traverse new territory and haunt us with their visions. We demand this of our artists and we don’t think it should be easy. Why then, would the act of seeing be any easier?