Ability to See

Gabriel Josipovici has been to see the exhibition Dürer’s Journeys at the National Gallery. He describes it so vividly I delude myself I’ve seen it, too. Dürer (1471-1528) was indefatigably interested in the world around him, capable at once of global vision and microscopic scrutiny. Speaking of the notebook in which Dürer recorded impressions from numerous journey, Josipovici writes: ‘it is amazing to be able to read, 500 years after they were written, the unguarded comments of a curious traveller whose ability to see had been honed by years of practice.’ The reminder is precious. We may live with eyes wide open, even look feverishly around, without in fact seeing anything. Seeing must be practised. It is an art and an ascesis. It can also be a way of exercising philanthropy. We all know what Josipovici means: ‘At moments, looking at his drawings in particular or reading his Diary, we are pierced with the sharp sense of recognition: “Yes! I know this!”‘ — only we don’t realise until a trained seer enables such epiphanies of self-evidence.