Van Gogh explained, “If we look at a Japanese artist, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise. What does he spend his time doing? Studying a single blade of grass.”
It is rare for a busy artist, one who is trying to find time to create and also trying to deal with the rest of life, to engage in the equivalent of studying a single blade of grass. But that intense, quiet practice is a valuable one to inaugurate.
Focusing on one thing deeply and patiently helps us learn about that thing. If you can quiet your nerves, quiet your mind, fight your inclination to rush off, and really pay attention to a single blade a grass, a single architectural detail, or a single shadow on the sidewalk, you will learn something about art that you can’t learn if you just keep racing along.
Often children are punished for exploring and therefore lose their taste for exploring. As adults they tell themselves that they don’t have enough time to explore, that they need to get on with accomplishing. Burdened by that mindset they find it painfully hard to commune with the basic building blocks of their chosen art and to patiently explore the visual notes that make up their universe.
When we set out to study a single blade of grass or a single shadow on the ground we are reminding ourselves that great edifices are built out of actual building blocks. A melody is made up of notes, not thin air. The experience of studying a single blade of grass, a single strand of hair, or a single glint of sunlight is at once a powerful meditation and a great learning experience. Give it a try! Set aside some time to study a single blade of grass—or whatever its equivalent might be in your visual vocabulary.
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