Listening to artist Makoto Fujimura brilliantly answer questions from Belmont University students last night caused me to see once again the power of perceptual view. Fujimura had the distinct advantage of growing up and attending school in both Boston and Tokyo. The perceptual view afforded him by the divergent philosophies of the East and the West created an extraordinary artistry blessed with a rare convergence of American free enterprise and Asian sense of essence.
We Americans are reared with the adage ringing in our ears, “Curiosity kills the cat.” To that, I say an emphatic bull#@%*! In fact, Arnold Edinborough says it this way, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”
An endless curiosity is essential to the life of a creative. If our lives are consumed by a search for meaning, few activities reveal as much about our quest—in all of its passion and paradoxes—than our travels. In the captivating book, The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes, “The French poet Baudelaire honored reveries of travel as a mark of those noble questing souls whom he described as ‘poets’, who could not be satisfied with the horizons of home even as they appreciated the limits of other lands, whose temperaments oscillated between hope and despair, childlike idealism and cynicism.” When oppressed by the atmosphere in his home town where the world seemed “monotonous and small,” he would travel. He writes,
Carriage, take me away with you! Ship, steal me away from here!
Take me far, far away. Here the mud is made of our tears!
I grew up the child of a small southern community in rural USA where most of the residents spend their life and death in a tiny sphere of several miles. Somehow, at the age of twenty-five, I escaped the confines of rural southern culture and moved to the international melting pot called South Florida. Words cannot adequately describe the culture shock of this naive Tennessee country boy and family upon encountering the perceptual view of New Yorkers, Bostonians, New Jerseyans, Cubans, Latinos and the Caribbean.
Here is a statistic that continually shocks me. Only 27% of Americans possess a passport. Americans as a whole isolate themselves from the rest of the world in the laziest of ways, reveling in cultural ignorance and scoffing at the very idea of going abroad. Many could travel if they wanted to, but they simply don’t. They willingly deprive themselves of the power of perceptual view.
The term perceptual view means gaining new insight, intuition, or knowledge by perceiving sensory stimuli. For those of us who find travel an art, the misconceptions of a foreign country are soon dispelled upon encountering the sight, sounds and smells of the people who live there. Let’s explore three fascinating aspects of perceptual view for a brief moment.
First, perceptual view provides insight. It provides the opportunity to apprehend the true nature of a thing. For example, we can be “Islamaphobes,” only until we sit on the floor and break bread with a Muslim in their country and realize they think and act just like me and you. Insight soon dawns that their perception of Americans is just as skewed as our perception of them. Also, my creative insight is never so heightened as when I travel another land. So, the West meets the East.
Second, perceptual view provides intuition. “How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.” So says Russian born American writer, Isaac Asimov. When intuition—a knowledge or belief obtained neither by reason nor by perception—converges with insight, powerful things happen both emotionally and rationally—a multifaceted revelation occurs that produces creative capital. And, the East meets the West.
Third, perceptual view provides knowledge. Travel rewards our curiosity with facts, truths, and principles—it gives us opportunity to study and investigate. New art, food, drink, architecture, lands and people release latent layers of value. The knowledge gained may have more to do with the mindset with which we travel, rather than the destination we travel to. We must travel with receptivity. We must be perceptive to the layers of history and culture that provide invaluable gifts of insight, intuition and ultimately knowledge. And knowledge is power. Power to truly live and create. And never the twain shall part.
We need to be shaken from our passivity and isolation. If we consider our world to be boring—it will duly meet our expectations.
Travel, on the other hand, causes us to perceive and view the importance of what we’ve already seen with new eyes. As Thoreau challenges us, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
What would be your dream travel destination? Why?