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The eye has landed! Suddenly the gaze is caught by a feature of a living entity made meaningful by being seen. Eyes don’t move smoothly over the observed environment as head movements may suggest; not in continuous or steady strokes like the paintbrush applying colour in elegant lines. They stop dead momentarily to pick up the image and move on soon enough to perch on the next noticed spot for assessing the bigger view and reporting findings to the brain. These eye movements are learned from practicing eye usage starting shortly after birth and can be confirmed to consist of irregular stops like a bird or bee moves about its business in the garden on a sunny morning. Flight is the significant skill, but the landings bring the relevance of the action. Looking at the flower happens only whilst the eye is resting on its target.
Looking at an inanimate object is different from looking at a living one. When you see a rock it may be beautiful as a flower, but it is only an object and there is no looking back at you. The flower is recognized by the viewer as a fellow living entity; or it can be and should be. The significance of this recognition is limited or enhanced by the capacity of the viewer. The bee does not expect the colourful stone to have produced any pollen during the night for it to harvest. It knows where to find food. The dog looks at the sunflower by the back door differently than at its bowl of food, even though it might jump up any minute to bite the flower. But that is more likely to happen in the case of a young dog. The action is related to energy that must be expended, rather than to any logical intent.
What happens in the mind when one living entity recognizes another and this becomes mutual, is communication. The eye that is taking in a work of art triggers admiration and appreciation in the viewer and may cause inspirational lifting of the spirit, although any communication taking place is with the artist, not the work, as in reading his or her letter or message left for speaking to the viewer through the work.
Looking at the flower or animal is then representing a form of I-You relationship (in the Martin Buber sense), not an I-It relationship. Recognizing life thus in the act of observation is a form of greeting, a reaching out across the species divide to a fellow citizen of the earth. Valuing what is observed is the basis for constructive coexistence, for maintaining harmonious biological diversity and all those related good things. Such communion may give cause to the experience of a lifting to a spiritual I-Thou level, when and if such needs might arise.
But something else happens when looking at the flower or the world. There is a moment of undefined, poorly understood and risky intake; openness to what is out there that through the act of observation may grow, modify or even harm the viewer. It is called living, risk-taking behaviour from which the living is not spared! Silent, attentive surveillance of the environment is acceptance of the fact that the viewer may be forever and significantly changed by what is being taken on board. This openness seldom yields such spectacular results, but it might. We just could at any moment suddenly really see!