Intentional Observation: NEA report finds it lacking

I’m reading through a new blog entry by Makoto Fujimura and am finding a lot of it’s content relevant to my thoughts on intentional observation. He cites early on in his lengthy post a November 2007 NEA study on reading in America. Following are some of Fujimura’s observations; the post is a reflection on his recent visit to a Van Gogh exhibit.

    “Not only does the report give us hard data on the steep decline of reading at all levels and age groups (except the pre-teen years — call it the “Harry Potter effect,”) but it substantiates an alarming trend of communal disengagement. We are not only reading less, we are reading less well: we are not only reading less well, we are losing our capacity to focus and pay attention to the world around us with empathy . . . The key word is “communicate,” and the report points out the severe consequences if we continue to lose our capacity to communicate. We may, if we go down this road, no longer have the capacity to be moved by Van Gogh or any other artist: we would not have the patience and longing in our hearts to do so.”

    Some, I am sure, will point out that the mode of communication has shifted from the antiquated print culture to our current internet society; now we have a “visual culture,” and are taking in information differently. But taking in mere information does not mean we are deeply engaged with the content. We may be able to scan for multifarious sensory input, and gather unreliable, but perhaps important, bits and pieces in our junkyard of amassed headlines. But the type of mental wrestling that reading a good book brings is irreplaceable.

Good stuff, which I think is self-explanatory and backs up my interest in intentional observation. Equally as interesting in Fujimura’s article are details about Van Gogh’s faith I never knew about previously; granted I never studied his life or work with any kind of depth.

The following is one of my favorite Van Goghs, Cafe Terrace at Night:



About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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