Seeing What You Believe

Most of us assume we believe what we see. That views ourselves as completely rational and objective. I have started to doubt this. My opinion is that we tend to see what we believe.

World view

Don’t believe it? How about your political views? Are you confident you are completely correct and anyone who disagrees with “your side” is an idiot? That usually comes from only listening to one side of the arguments – the ones you agree with.

Take the Covid “crisis”. Lockdowns are required, or foolish. Vaccination should be required, or should be optional. Isolation is necessary to save lives, or it is causing more problems than it cures. Have you really taken a cool, rational look at all of the facts and arguments on both sides and come to an unemotional decision? No, your decision is based on emotion and on who you listen to.

What you see tends to be based on the “tribe” you identify with and associate with.


In our current society, rationality is basically a myth. I’m not saying that is good or bad. The problem is not recognizing it. All advertising and news and political discourse and “scientific” pronouncements are targeted to our emotions. Some are designed to breed fear so we are more vulnerable and can be controlled more easily. Some are designed to make us lust for products they want to sell us. In all cases, we are treated as cattle, existing to benefit the power structure you give allegiance to.

Not recognizing what is happening makes us content to stay in the herd,. If we learn to recognize it, we can gain back some control of our lives. Artists should lead self-examined lives.

In art

Enough depressing hand-wringing. This column is about art and us as artists.

Have you thought about how you decide what to shoot? If I suggest you pick up your camera now and go out for a quick shoot, what are you going to do?

I suggest that, as artists, we also tend to see what we believe. In this narrow domain, that is not a bad thing. Our world view, our values and beliefs color and shape what we see and are drawn to.

I am of the group who enjoys going out exploring with little agenda or plan. I wander and shoot what I am drawn to where I am. This is invigorating to me. But if someone else was doing the same thing in the same area, they would get a different set of shots. Why?

I believe it is because our different values and interests make different subjects stand out. This is part of what makes us all individually creative and interpretive. Out internal view determines how we see the world and what we want to being into our art.


I have maintained before that I go out empty and discover what is there to see. Yes and no. I do, but I am not open to shooting everything. I see what I believe.

As new artists we do tend to shoot everything around us. We don’t really know yet what our true interests are. When we mature more and start building a body of work we start discovering that we are drawn to certain subjects or designs or looks. We can see they are recurring in the work we like. This may be an unconscious process at first.

Part of this process is us establishing boundaries for our art. Consciously excluding things that take us away from our main focus. Allowing ourselves to walk away from subjects that may have potential, but we know are not our style.

Let me give a simple example from myself. I am not a portrait artist. I don’t want to do it and, the rare times I have been talked into it, I have been uncomfortable. It wasn’t fun. Portrait photography is a huge and important area, but it is not for me. Candid shots of people are interesting to do, but not formal portraits. So when I am out exploring, I seldom even consider people shots. It is almost completely blocked off from my view.

Another example: flowers. Take me to a great garden and tell me I have unlimited time there to shoot and I might as well just sit and read a book. Flowers do not interest me much unless I think I can bring something unique to the scene or treatment. This is rare.

I am beginning to see a pattern that the more we mature in our art, the less widely we shoot.

Discover your themes

Let me propose a new year exercise for us all. Go back and pull together a portfolio of the 100 images from last year you appreciate the most. Not necessarily the most meaningful in any social or environmental sense. Not the ones that have the most “likes”. These are the images that you like the best.

Study this set. Are there themes you can identify? Are there repeating subjects? These probably represent the themes you are most interested in, at least for now. Think about these. Meditate on them. Determine to pursue these themes to a greater depth this year. Explore how to bring out the best treatment of these. Expect to see these subjects or themes when you are shooting, realizing that they interest you. Sensitize yourself to them.

This is a positive application of seeing what you believe.

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