“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
In The Seventh Most Important Thing, artist James Hampton dispenses this warning as he pushes a rusty grocery cart around his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. The real James Hampton kept the quote on a bulletin board in his garage workshop.
As someone who comes from a family of near-sighted, glasses-wearing people, I can definitely relate to the importance of good vision. Take away our glasses and the world literally disappears for the Pearsall family. We can’t read the cereal box or the computer screen. We can barely see our 12 lb. black-and-white furball of cat, Charlie.
Of course, James Hampton isn’t really referring to eyesight or glasses when he mentions vision. He’s talking about a deeper kind of vision — the ability to see the possibilities and potential beyond what is right in front of us.
James Hampton had the ability to take objects other people overlooked or discarded — cans, light bulbs, foil, cardboard — and to see their potential as a work of art. His gifted hands could turn a bottle into an angel. A discarded red chair could become a glittering throne.
But it isn’t always easy to see the world this way in 2016. Digital devices absorb all of our attention and all of our vision. (And “perishing” is a very real possibility for people who are too distracted to look around at all — like those who text while crossing the street!)
So, here’s where I have a shocking confession to make: When I’m out in the world, I don’t carry any digital devices at all. None. No iPhones or iPads or iPods … only an old Tracfone that I keep in the glove compartment of my car for emergencies. That’s it.
Why? Because I want to be 100% free to see what is happening around me. Using vision is how I discover my stories, as well as my characters and their conversations. If I don’t pay attention, if I’m absorbed in staring at a screen … I have nothing to write about.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should throw out their digital devices in order to become more creative. (Trust me, though, it does work!) Just try turning them off for a few minutes — or, better yet, a few hours — every day, and take the time to pay attention to the world. Listen to a conversation. Notice someone’s expressions. Look for a story. Study one object in detail and notice its colors, shapes, and textures. (A platter of gorgeous oranges sits in front of me right now.) Use your creative vision to imagine some other possibilities for that object. What else could my plate of oranges be? Snowballs, planets, dinosaur eggs, secret worlds…
This is the way to begin to see the world through the eyes of James Hampton — with vision for all of its marvelous possibilities.