Paying attention is a form of jogging. Jogging requires practice and training. And if you practice for a while, you may one day experience a feeling where time disappears. You are in a zone and feel like you could run forever.
Flow, a coin termed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, means you are in intense absorption. Completely engaged. Yet attention fitness is rarely practiced. Clay Johnson on Lifehacker writes, “Most people who click on this article won’t finish reading it. So says Nick Carr. The New York Times will remind you that you’ll probably forget it in a few minutes. This idea’s so prevalent, even the Onion has started taking jabs.”
Attention fitness is vital not only to finish reading a blog post but also to solve problems and search for new solutions. Fast ideas and suggestions may be valued but insights and understanding may take time to develop.
Jennifer L. Roberts, professor of history of art and architecture introduced students to the virtues of deep patience and close attention. Patience and attention are rarely valued in today’s Internet era.
The students were asked to prepare an intense research paper on a single work of art. The project should start by doing a close examination for a work of art. Ah, a close examination sounds easy. . . but this was a looooong examination. The students had to spend THREE hours looking at the painting.
If you look at the painting below by Singleton Cople “Boy with a Squirrel”, there are relationships that take time to see. The students were amazed at some of the things they could see after a while. Jennifer says that if you focus on the painting for a long time there are details that emerge after about one hour about the shape of the boy’s ear and the squirrel’s ruff. You may notice folds of a curtain and the proportion of hand and glass of water.
Teaching art students’ “patience engineering” allows them to slow down and explore new things. Things that a quick a fast glance might not reveal. Allow yourself to process things deeply rather than shallowly!
I must admit that looking at a painting for 3 hours – well, I simply could not do that. I like to focus for a short period, move around and return later to the problem. Maybe I can increase the time that I focus so that each week I focus a minute or two longer. Also I need to find something that will absorb me. Some of us may find it easier to focus on music. There are differences between focusing on music for three hours and looking at a painting. Music is constantly changing and it leads you somewhere. But then again maybe being absorbed in a painting takes you somewhere.
Focusing the attention is a vital part of applied creativity. And so is awareness of when your attention is shifting. Defining your focus when you are looking at a painting may help you to stay focused, for example, you could focus on aspects that you like with the painting or what the artists was trying to achieve. This approach can also be used when focusing on generating creative ideas. What is the topic? What is the goal? Deciding on what to focus on before starting enhances your chances of success.
Go here to read more about the focusing the attention.
Photo: “Orange And Fruit Mix” by adamr, John Singleton Copley’s 1765 painting Boy with a Squirrel.