Design is Spelled with a “See”

“All right, that’s it!” I thought. “It’s time.”

There it was, a vase full of tulips sitting on the kitchen table, right in front of me. They’d been sitting in front of me for twenty minutes. I hadn’t seen them. Their delicate petals were already pulling away from the stem and curling outward to begin their ending, the blown-out look of withered blossoms.

When my wife walked by and I commented on the flowers, she told me she’d put them there herself two days ago. That’s when I decided. It was time.

I had forgotten how to pay attention.

How to see, how to look, how to observe — in short, I’d been focusing on everything else but what was around me.

Maybe we all have a tendency to fall into a rut: our eyes get lazy and simply stop looking at things outside the path of our daily doings. We don’t stop and smell the flowers. But this was crazy. I sat right in front of something without seeing it, for two days.

It was time to practice looking again.

I headed toward the Nelson Atkins Museum. I figured an art museum is a good place to start.

I looked up the old masters wing. You know, those guys from long ago: Monet, Manet, Pizarro, Titian, and a hundred others. I started looking. Sure enough, soon I saw a painting that seemed to flash off the wall and pull my eyes back in with it. So real! And then, another. See what I mean? Right there, beyond that hill in the distance, it looks so lifelike, I can’t believe it’s just goofy paint! On canvas! Then I think about the fact that this guy could do that, trap the essence sunlight ┬áin oils and keep it trapped for five hundred years. I feel like an idiot, standing here centuries later gawking like a baboon.

I round a corner and see it there again, the light. It’s glinting off a purple finch over here in one of the Water Lilies, it’s streaming down from heaven over there in a landscape, it’s commanding the edge of each blade of grass over amidst the pointillists. It’s everywhere. I stand in the rays, bathe my eyeballs in it. Sweet and colorful, the purple finch light here, the glorious red there, the singing dancing whirling colors.

Then wham! I turn around and it hits me in the face like a flat shovel: a stab of sunlight breaching the museum window. I never saw it! But there it is, sneaking past a corner wall, smearing the far wall and seizing all the interior space by force. All the paintings wince.

I look out the window. There’s a gardener mowing the lawn outside the museum wing. He crosses back and forth in front of the window, a moving work of art, an art of work, part of the scene and part of the art. I forget where I am. The gardener follows his own spoor around a corner and disappears. I start betting with myself how long he’ll take to return. I see his return path, the point where he’ll probably appear. I wait. And wait again.


Pop! There he comes, striding workmanlike over the vast green sea, taming it row by row. Does he know I’m watching him? He sees me. I wave. Does he know he’s part of the art exhibit? I can’t tell.

Where is the art again? I’ve lost track.

I walk home, somehow satisfied. I am amazed at just how many things I seem to notice on the walk back to my own part of the world.

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