Shifting Perspective – Mezzanine

By Steven Uhles

Perspective was one of the first lessons I remember learning in art class. And while the technicalities of perspective ­— foreground and background and vanishing points — were important, what really seemed to stick was the more abstract idea of taking a flat plane and learning to look at it in a different, deeper, and perhaps, unexpected way.

Perspective allowed a finite square of canvas to become an infinite medium for expression. It was a window for anything I might imagine could be viewed through it. Technique would, of course, help with the execution, but perspective, my perspective,  would be required for the conceptualization. And that is where the art originated.

I’ve been thinking about those early aesthetic lessons a lot lately, not only regarding art but life in general. I had a conversation recently with an Augusta expatriate. Life, as this person explained, was much better and brighter since leaving town. I was happy to hear this news, as the struggle was real for this person while living here.

What threw me, however, was where the blame was placed. It wasn’t fate, unfortunate circumstance or toxic relationships this person blamed. It was the city: Augusta was responsible for the problems. When I suggested that I found Augusta to be an excellent place to live, full of culture and good people, the counter-response came with a scoff. “Well, that’s your perspective.”

Indeed, that is true. It is my perspective. And, truth be told, it wasn’t always. As a young man, just out of high school and looking to the future, I decided that Augusta was closed-minded and provincial. Staying meant compromise, so to truly discover who I was required physically removing myself from what I felt was the community’s too-tight embrace.

That was my perspective.

So that is what I did. I left.

I was gone for more than ten years. I didn’t return for visits. I didn’t check in on old friends. I was just … gone. Even when I returned, I was uncertain. I had spent so long exploring and working to convince myself that the perspective of a man, perhaps too young to know better, was correct.

Then one day, I asked myself what was forming these opinions about Augusta. What made me feel like it was something less. Was it an ineffective government? The government I saw, though flawed, was no more subject to stumbles than anywhere else I had lived. Was it a lack of cultural options? Was I not entertained? That wasn’t it either. Was it the people? Were they cruel or callow or otherwise wanting. Sure. Some were. More were not. That’s not the character of a community. That’s the nature of man.

And so I decided, quite deliberately, to change my perspective. Instead of focusing on what I felt — correctly or incorrectly — hindered the community, I began to focus on the positive. I focused on the things that made, or at least had the potential to make, the Augusta area strong.

What has been interesting about this little experiment, or shift in perspective, is how it has affected my perception of so many things. If a person is callous toward me, I try, instead of becoming angry, to question why that might have happened. Perhaps, for instance, they lack the confidence or resources to communicate otherwise. Seems more likely than the ‘bad person behaving badly’ model so often applied to conflict.

Perhaps the most notable difference brings me back to that blank canvas. It’s how I approach creative work. It’s the idea of the technical versus the conceptual. Instead of looking at how work is created, I prefer to ask why. Instead of gauging a performance or piece of art based on its technical merits, I look at what might have been communicated. Perspective.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think I am some sort of top-of-the-mountain sage, wandering the world with a beatific smile of understanding permanently plastered across my face. Shifting my perspective is often laborious. Sometimes, I just don’t feel up to the task.

I’m emotional and react to things emotionally. The act of will to approach problems with the intellectual and empathetic mindset required to effectively shift perspective is often beyond me. I’m human and opinionated, and not necessarily in that order.

The difference is now I understand how to try. I may not always succeed. I may not always be able to find my way to understanding. But I can try, and sometimes trying is enough. Shifting my perspective has helped me move past seeing a town I thought was responsible for my woes and wake up to a place where finding my joy is possible.

It has made Augusta my own blank canvas.

Appears in the May 2022 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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