The short programmes in the Essay series on Radio 3 are always worth tuning in to. Two recent programmes were by Ian Sansom. He imagined letters he might have written to, among others, Frida Kahlo and Julia Margaret Cameron. There were new insights on the lives of these two artists and I can recommend listening to the programmes in full.
One thing he mentioned in passing was something he claimed Roland Barthes, the French art philosopher, had said. It was something like – to look at a photograph you have to look away, or close your eyes – yes, it sounds silly, but I know what he meant.
To fully appreciate any work of art you need to give it your full attention and clear your mind of any distractions – including any recent things you have viewed. Looking away, or closing your eyes for a few moments is a little trick to play on your perceptions to try and get that fresh view and level of attention that the work deserves.
It is related to the advice that Ron Smith gave us, many years ago. He said he left all the pictures he had developed in one session hanging up in the corridor next to his darkroom – until the next day. Then he was able to see the pictures properly, as another viewer might see them. His mind would have been cleared of all the poring over detail which generates a distorted view of your own work.