In Chapter 4 we explore the differences between looking and seeing, and how we are capable of doing the former, without actually managing the latter. When we are absorbed inside our minds we can fail to observe all kinds of details around us, something which a more purposeful scrutiny of our surroundings makes clear. The reasons for this are something which Claxton explores from a basis of scientific research in Hare Brain,Tortoise Mind (1997). One of these might simply be that we are rushing, and so focussed on something urgently dominating our attention that everything else has fallen away from our actual line of sight.
What he describes as the ‘inhibiting effect of intention’ (1997:129) , driving and narrowing our attention to a selective range of focus, means that we are less receptive to other sights, stimuli and possibilities around us that will pique our curiosity, open up our interests, and spark up thoughts and connections.
Ways of looking and receiving, with and without intention, are myriad, and have always been part of learning and teaching, whether formal or informal. Recently, the kinds of visual learning activities that have awoken our students’ imagination include urban foraging, visual treasure hunts, window and environment analysis, wildlife tours on campus and the visual culture walks, describe by Sina and Janice (see videos below). In Bristol, England, last year, Alison went on a night time tour of the local street art, including works by the elusive and mysterious graffiti artist Banksy – an illuminating foray into kinds of art practice, community and ways of being and working that were completely unknown to her, and made her revise her conceptions of what graffiti and street art are, and are for.
The kinds of images that Banksy and others have smuggled onto the facades of our towns are only one example of the kinds of visual culture around us that we miss, undervalue, misunderstand or overlook entirely – or that make us stop in our tracks and jolt us out of our routines and reveries. In the two videos below, Sina Shamsavari and Janice Miller talk about how and why they send students studying visual culture out onto the streets of London. Part of doing this is to find out what they search for, home in on, think they need to find, or fail to see that count.