Oh, It’s Just Like a Picture

Alan Watts aboard the houseboat, Vallejo

In every national park there is a place called “Inspiration Point”, and people go there and say, “Oh! It’s just like a picture!”

Nobody knew this four hundred years ago.

It took the artists to paint landscapes before people realized how beautiful they are. Nowadays artists paint pictures of damp, stained walls and floors where people have dropped a lot of paint.

One day people will walk into a room where there is a lot of paint scattered on the floor and they will say, “My goodness, it is just like a Jackson Pollock. Isn’t it just like a picture?” It always takes the artist to show us the vision, but of course in the meantime, it is difficult to interpret these things.

You may go to an exhibition of contemporary, non-objective painting, and hear someone say, “That’s not what I call a picture”. This is because it is against their prejudices. However, I say to people, “Now, excuse me, but wait a minute. Take a look at that again. That painting is a colored photograph of guess what?” Then they look at it in astonishment with entirely new eyes.


What could that be a photograph of?


Soon they begin to see that it might be a photograph taken through a microscope, perhaps of globules and germs floating in liquid. It might be anything, but there it is, and its beauty suddenly comes over them. Goodness knows whether that was what the artist intended, but this sort of real abstraction embodies a method of giving people a shock so they will see things in a new way.

— Alan Watts, Tao of Philosophy, 1973 ♥

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