The Bigger Picture

Photo of Kilham “tunnel” with permission.
David Hockney certainly provides the Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts. Increasingly he has rejected the viewfinder of the camera. The viewfinder of his most recent work is his own eyes and the imagination of his mind’s eye.

What Hockney sees is amazing the rest of us who haven’t practiced the art of seeing. The colours he sees in a field, a tree trunk or a forest floor are not far-fetched but are already hinted at in the subject. Many of the subjects are from his own homeland of East Yorkshire, including “the tunnel” near Kilham. The tunnel is an ordinary farm track with trees, hedgerow and tractor track, with the tunnel being formed by the trees that overarch the track.

It is a track which most of would take for granted, which we would pass by without noticing it. But Hockney treats us to his own views which he lays out on canvases that fill the room. Each view is different. He steps to one side and then another to give himself yet another point of view. He steps forward and he steps backwards. He sees it in the morning light and the evening light, when wet and when dry, in spring through to winter. He sees it in relaxed mood and when stressed and tired. There is the one scene, but so many views. There is one pair of eyes, but so many perspectives.  There is the partiality of personal insight but still such wonder. Even Hockney “only sees dimly”, because that is the human condition (1 Cor 13).

There is only so much that can go into one exhibition room. The exhibition is a sell out, even though it is open till midnight on some evenings. The rooms are crowded with people who have come to see. We are given a bigger picture which we see with our own eyes. Excitedly, many take the time to try to share what they see but it is each to their own. There is the one scene, and through one pair of eyes so many views. There is one room and so many pairs of eyes, each drawing their own conclusions.

Realising the many perspectives gives us the bigger picture. Is this the prescription that helps us see better? It is, so long as we can reconcile our views. In any room full of people there is a whole variety of views. But no bigger picture emerges if those views can’t be reconciled to each other. If our views are diametrically opposed to each other we become uncomfortable and we don’t know where to look.

Don’t hold on so tight

“How do we present ourviews in the fullness of our embodied and perspectival commitment, withoutfalling back into a pre-modern universalism that has rightly been criticised asexpressing the will to power of those who have been able to express theirviews? I suggest it is not by pretending to an intellectual neutrality which inany case is only a pose, but rather by acknowledging and affirming the conditionsof time and space, which limit our perspectives as well as giving them theirdistinctive perspectival power… We should not hold our views so tightly that wecannot appreciate the perspectival truths embodied in the lives and works ofothers. We should think of our ‘truth claims ‘as the product of embodied thinking not as terminally boreduniversally valid thought.” 

Christ, C P. 1988, Embodied thinking: reflections on feminist theological method. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 5, 1 – page 15.