The story goes that the painter Al Held said, “Conceptual art is just pointing at things,” so John Baldessari decided to take him literally, and commissioned a bunch of amateur painters to paint realistic paintings of hands pointing at things:
Of course, all art is, in a sense, pointing at things! The artist sees something and she points to it so you can see it, too.
The intention, the purpose, is not to show your talent but to show something…. I had a very great urgency to show, to share. The cat brings you in things, you know? It was that kind of thing. I discovered things and wanted to share them.
Something similar from Corita Kent: “I just make things I like bigger.”
Sterne emphasized that she pointed away from herself. To Bomb magazine: “I see myself as a well-working lens, a perceiver of something that exists independently of me: don’t look at me, look at what I’ve found.”
It’s the same for writers: Good writing is often just pointing at things.
In his most recent newsletter, Oliver Burkeman suggests that people who want to make writing less hard should just think about showing people something that you’ve noticed. “Look, over there,” your writing should ask, “can you see?
“When you write,” says Steven Pinker, “you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that’s interesting, that you are directing the attention of your reader to that thing in the world, and that you are doing so by means of conversation.”
“Which sounds obvious,” says Burkeman, “except that it makes immediately clear how many writers are doing something else.”
Academics are often more focused on showing off their knowledge, or their membership in an exclusive circle…. Journalists are often trying to inflame your anger, or rally support for some cause.
“The reader wants to see,” Burkeman says, “your job is to do the pointing.”
It is the same for blogging, says Robin Rendle: “blogging is pointing at things and falling in love.” (I like his ordering: not falling in love and then pointing, but pointing and then falling in love. Loving something by paying attention to it.)
As I wrote in Steal Like An Artist,
“Step 1: Wonder at something.
Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.”
Point at things, say, “whoa,” and elaborate.