We have all taken pictures of a glorious sunset, the best ever, only to find later that the photographs don’t quite do it justice. I have therefore often refrained from taking pictures at all at amazing places or events, like the Grand Canyon, a sunset, or a moonrise, or a concert, since the time spent fiddling with the camera just took away from my attention to the actual event and therefore the experience itself.
On a recent road trip I experienced this more than ever. I was driving across the Mojave Desert. Endless sand flats, distant mountains, grand skies dominated the landscape. Then I saw a freight train approaching. Four locomotives pulled a seemingly endless trail of wagons reaching into the distance as far as the eye could see. I saw an idea for a dramatic painting. A freight train in front of the Mojave. The train was colorful, it popped out of the desert landscape vividly and in three dimensions. My eye saw the painting forming.
Since I was driving down I-40 at 70 miles per hour on an empty freeway, I just pulled out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures of this stunning site. And here is the result:
My eyes didn’t see the glare of the windshield and bug stains and dusty wiper smears. My eyes saw the train huge and impressive, making its way down the track with powerful engines across a forbidding landscape. My eyes saw brilliant colors and stark shapes and movement of the train across magnificent desolation of the desert.
My eyes saw what they wanted to see. But the camera saw what was actually there. Reality let me down.
That’s why artists need to go out to be surrounded by nature to do their work, at least some of the time.