Foundational Books for Seeing Clearly

Welcome to Seeing Clearly by me, Kim Manley Ort. For the year 2021, I’ll offer weekly reflections and practices for seeing more clearly in everyday life. We’ll draw from my studies on the topic of perception, notice how our mind affects what we see, and practice relating to the world around us with mind, body, and heart. I hope you’ll join me.

In my last post, I shared the basic premise for the 2021 project on Seeing Clearly. There are many, many books on seeing and perception that I’ve gained inspiration from and I’ll be sharing ideas from these throughout the year. However, there are three books in particular that I consider foundational. If you want to go deeper, I’d recommend reading these over the course of the year as a companion to your own reflection and practice.**

Sight and Sensibility by Laura Sewall

Sight and Sensibility: The Ecopsychology of Perception by Laura Sewall

This is a phenomenal book which covers the three overarching themes of perception - body, mind, and heart. I’ll address each of these in a future post. Laura Sewall received a Ph.D from Brown in psychology and neurophysiology of vision. She has been a professor at Prescott College in Arizona and Director of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conser­vation Area and the Shortridge Coastal Center at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. As far as I know, this is the only book she has written (1999) and she has lectured widely. 

When Sewall was a young woman, she found herself becoming increasingly nearsighted. She discovered and practiced the Bates Method of vision improvement with a teacher in Los Angeles and her vision improved tremendously, in fact, she could now see with extraordinary clarity. This led her to the path of visual potential and eco-psychology - the connection between the natural world and the mind and emotions. She was convinced that we could train ourselves to see much more than we normally do. 

In this book, she outlines the history of perceptual studies and shows how cultural differences affect the way we see. Most importantly, she shows how expanding our perceptual abilities can train us to perceive the relationships inherent in all things. This changes the way we relate to the world. 

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More than Human World by David Abram

David Abram wrote the foreword to Laura Sewall’s book and has written many wonderful books of his own. This one focuses on the embodied or sensual nature of perception and returns us to the magic that can be found in the natural world and all it entails. Abram’s goal is to knock some sense into us and help us identify and replace habitual ways of seeing. He expertly shows us the character of perception and outlines the sensual foundations of language. 

READ: On Being Human in a More-than-Human World by David Abram

Seeing is Forgetting by Lawrence Weschler

Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees by Lawrence Weschler

Uta Barth is one of my favourite photographers of perception. She doesn’t photograph things but rather she photographs how we see. And this book by Weschler on the artist, Robert Irwin, is her foundational text. 

This book first appeared in 1982 and is based on decades of conversations between Weschler and Irwin, "who one day got hooked on his own curiosity and decided to live it." Like Uta Barth, Irwin reframes the definition of art from things to relationships to get at the heart of perception. He is a master of light and space, an artist who began painting and then moved to sculptural and other site-conditioned projects. Their conversations, based on his artistic process and development, enlighten us about art, creativity, patience, and seeing. 

READ: Seeing is Forgetting (inspired by Robert Irwin)

In my next post, I’ll share a little about the history of perception. The reflections and practices will start January 3rd. Sign up now so you don’t miss it.

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** Book links are Amazon-affiliate links meaning I make a small amount of money should you purchase through my link. This doesn’t affect the price you pay.