It's true in painting and it's true in life: How things look depends on the way you see them. And both a well-received painting and a fulfilling life depend upon keeping a true perspective.
I worked recently on a painting that challenged and inspired me. It is a view of the Golden Gate bridge, depicted from across the bay. In the foreground, gentle waves curl. The beautiful bridge curves gracefully into the distance over the surging waters of the bay, with the sparkling city beyond.
It's a beautiful scene. It took my breath when I first looked at the bridge from that particular angle. And my ability to paint it depended on how I managed the complex perspective required. The waves in the foreground needed to appear larger than those next to the bridge. The relative distance between the girders needed to be just right to convince the eye of the shape and curve of the bridge. The water in between needed to sparkle and draw the eye toward the bridge, which is the focus of the painting, and on to the distant city. To pull that painting off, I needed to look with an alert, unprejudiced eye and then employ all my energy and artistic skill to reproduce what my artistic eye saw.
In art, perspective is both a viewpoint and a technique. Perspective is the lens and angle from which the painter views the world of the painting, and it is also a set of skills that enable the artist to paint that world believably.
When I reproduce those perceptions on canvas, I am able to create a landscape that seems three-dimensional and real. With perspective, I can bring the painting to life.
Perspective also allows me to shape the reality of a painting, to change the world subtly, to achieve my goals as an artist. I can emphasize certain elements, minimize others, even add or subtract items, using my perspective skills to work these elements into a believable and, I hope, beautiful whole.
And yes, this applies to perspective in life as well as in painting. Our perspective or viewpoint involves the way we look at life. But our perspective also shapes our living.
If I am looking at life through a perspective of gratitude and hope, for instance, I will live and think differently than if my view was one of bitterness and anger. The same is true of the way I look at myself. If I maintain a balanced perspective on me--honestly recognizing my flaws and shortcomings, honestly appreciating my gifts and talents--I will live accordingly, and this balanced view will shape my life. . . .
In my experience, however, perspective is prone to slippage. When I am working too hard, when I let my ambition get the best of me or allow my schedule to be overloaded, my perspective easily becomes skewed. When I'm not getting enough sleep or eating right or keeping my spiritual life in tune, my perspective can get warped. I lose touch with who I really am and with what is important in my life. And those are the times when I begin majoring on minors, sweating the small stuff, taking my frustrations out on others. Those are the times when my daily tasks seem difficult, the people in my life seem unreasonable, when I take myself entirely too seriously.
Fortunately, I usually know what to do to get my perspective back in line. I have quite a collection of artist's tools that help me keep my perspective true in my paintings. And I have discovered some perspective-preserving techniques that help in my life as well.
Quiet time and solitude are vital to helping me keep perspective. I consider myself fortunate to have so much quiet built into my profession. I spend long hours by myself at my easel. And while I work, I think--of the future, of my loved ones, of God's goodness and the many exciting opportunities that surround me. I ponder the challenges I face, the needs of others, the direction my life is going.
As my thoughts unfold, forming and reforming to the rhythm of my brushwork, something else often happens as well. Quietly, almost unnoticeably, the wisdom and guidance of God will begin to settle on my active mind like gently falling snow on a busy street. That's why I like to think of these moments of quiet reflection as a form of prayer. Because they open up my mind and spirit to God's presence, they are doubly important in helping me keep my perspective true.
As vital as quiet time is, however, I find it hard to maintain a balanced perspective without input from other people and a chance to bounce my ideas off friends and colleagues. So I read. I listen to tapes. I seek out friends for discussions. Most important, I talk to my wife, Nanette. . . .
Most important of all, I maintain my perspective by trying to take the long view, the wider view. I try to step back from my life and get a vision for how things fit together. I try to determine what is temporal and what is timeless.
And I count my blessings.
I take the old, corny, totally dependable route of listing all the things I have to be thankful for. My art. My family. The fact that I woke up this morning and was able to walk and talk and breathe. The fact that in the day to come I will have another chance to get my perspective adjusted and see my life for what it is. Truly blessed.
The essence of the true view is that each of us is blessed beyond what we could ask of think, if we just take the time to realize it. Each of us can thank God for the indescribable gift that is life. To be living is to be handed a precious white canvas upon which each of us can create a painting of great depth and meaning. A painting that can be full of joy and peace. The beautiful painting of our lives.
Each life is a masterpiece in the making. And if your perspective is true, the whole canvas will be beautiful.