Observation and Writing

It Takes A Long Time to See A Flower

Georgia O’Keeffe once said this when referring to the observation skills necessary to paint the intricate details of flowers in large scale.
ORiental Poppies-Georgia O' Keeffe (1928)

I like to apply it to the practice of writing description. Rather than really taking the time to observe and note details, my college students rush through their descriptions, and so does my son. And why wouldn’t they? We live in a rushed, anti-analytical world. We pass things by so easily without consideration or appreciation, and once we look–really look–we have a chance to see what we miss during the otherwise ordinary day.

The painter O’Keeffe can be used as an example. Use Google Images to look up some photos of the flowers she painted–Iris, Calla Lilly, petunias, amarylis, poppies. Ask your kids to examine them, and you might even ask them to write a short description of one of the flowers. Then compare the photos to her paintings(try this link at art.com).

What differences do you and your children see? Do you notice how O’Keeffe captured the little things–the small stuff that we so easily overlook, but that is so important to the beauty of the flowers?

This same observant eye can be applied to writing, but as O’Keeffe tells us, “it takes a long time to see a flower.” We really have to take our time and look beyond what is on the surface. O’Keeffe also put it this way: ” Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”

Purple Petunias (1925)
Purple Petunias (1925)

To encourage and practice focused observation,
try this exercise: Gather a variety of rocks that have some cariations and details. Give each of your children/students one of the rocks and ask them to come up with 25-30 words to describe it. They will write feverishly at first, but will find that they have to look closely, and to think harder to really find something else to note. They may even have to invent words to capture a characteristic of the rock that they cannot otherwise describe.

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