Guest Voices: Artist Bruce Herman on Seeing Outside Yourself

July 14, 2021
“Forest Passage I” 2021, B. Herman oil on linen with gilded wood panels; 38” x 48”

I (Nancy) experienced Bruce Herman and his amazing artwork and way of seeing at the “Ordinary Saints” conference at Laity Lodge several years ago and I continue to follow him. I asked his permission to share one of his Facebook posts about the need “to see outside yourself. . .out toward relationship and self-forgetting.”

Seeing Outside Yourself

“To see and know a wild flower is a higher thing than to know all the botany of it. Ironically, it is probably botanists who understand this deep principle best of all. Those who love the natural world with an actual love, realize it is more than raw material for our use and experience.

It is for relationship.

The flower's photosynthesis and inner workings of the stem and root exist for the face of the flower, not the other way around.

Just so, to know nature—not in order to further exploit and use it—is a higher thing than to simply catalog its secrets or perfect its utility for our selfish ends. The face of nature, its "flower" is its deepest aspect according to George MacDonald—just as to know a person is to meet them in their face and gaze.

I am not arguing for a romanticized view of things, nor am I saying that logging or harvesting fruit or harnessing electricity is somehow innately selfish. And I think stewardship always involves a degree of use. What I want to express is a little insight I've discovered in the act of looking long and hard at the visible world.

To know something—anything—well, requires love and relationship, not mere experience.

My painting teacher in art college, Reed Kay, once said that in order to see the world one must fall in love with it. You cannot see that which you do not love. What you see in a loveless gaze is a mirage of your own desire—not what is truly there before your eyes. And in order to see well, we almost need to be "outside" ourselves—to move outward from self-identity and the brittle little clawing thing that sometimes resides in our heart, out toward relationship and self-forgetting.

In painting, as in poetry, there is an attempt to find the right "word"—the choice color, the right texture, the expressive mark that will point toward the thing in itself. There is an inevitable self-loss in that act because to do it well requires a level of concentration that inevitably eclipses the ego. This is what has kept me coming back again and again for a half-century to this essentially impossible task.

And the message I receive in that act is: ‘This is not about you.’”

Bruce Herman is a painter, writer, and public speaker. His art has been published widely and exhibited in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and most major cities in the U.S.A--as well as abroad in Italy, England, Israel, Japan, and Hong Kong. Herman’s art is featured in many public and private art collections––including the Vatican Museums in Rome, Cincinnati Museum of Fine Arts, Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the DeCordova Museum and Cape Ann Museum.

Bruce Herman’s art and writings are available in books and journals nationally and internationally, and in a thirty-year retrospective hardbound volume Through Your Eyes published by Eerdmans Publishing. His essays and talks are found in print and online journals such as IMAGE, Comment, Books and Culture, and others––as well as on numerous online sources.

Herman taught studio art and theory for nearly four decades at Gordon College. He holds the endowed Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts at the school and is Gallery Director and Art Collection manager there.

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