A Magnifying Glass

by mitchellgallery

There was a little girl who came into the Mitchell Gallery the other day. She must have been four or five years old. Like many children her age, she did not understand why the other art patrons in the gallery found the old prints – old drawings of old buildings in particular – interesting. She wandered around a bit before settling on one of our benches, dejected and very bored.

I motioned for her to come over and gave her a magnifying glass. Her little face broke into a grin. She immediately walked over to one of the prints and now with a determined step and puckered brow, scrutinized the work. Being only four or five years old, however, she had yet to figure out how to use a magnifying glass properly. She would hold the magnifying glass pressed against her eyes and from six feet away attempt to look at the prints. They most certainly must have been fuzzy and distorted to her at that distance. Then she tried holding it as far from her eyes as her little arms could; the images must have been tiny to her. She found this very amusing. Her mother came over and after some instruction, the little girl soon learned how to use such a curio properly.

What a little academic scholar in the making! I watched the little girl study each and every print in the room, standing on her tip-toes because she was much too short for the height of the artwork. Being so young also, probably just learning to read, she would sound out the titles of the pieces and names of the artists. “E-R-N-E-S-T,” she would spell out. “Eeerrr. Nnesssst.”

Yet it was not just the prints that she would study, but everything in the gallery – the texture of the walls, shape of the printed letters on the name tags, the stone wall, the frames of the prints, her hands, the brochures, even the grain of the wood on the floor. Everything became art to her. The world fascinated this little girl through the lens of a magnifying glass.

I’ve watched there people (not just little four year olds, but myself included) do this. The world is boring. But give me a magnifying glass, a camera, even a mirror – everything becomes art. Trees are more textured, the sky brighter, stones more intricate, the juxtaposition of forest against  mountains is a perfection composition of Nature’s art. But why do I need a something to look through to see this art? Why not simply through those with which I was born – my eyes?

As James Whistler said, “An artist is not paid for his labor but his vision.” Moreover this vision is not merely artistic sight, but a perspective on life. I strive everyday, then, to “see.” It’s difficult to “see” when I look at my world everyday with a mundane gaze or “open” my eyes when everyday I wake and have my eyes already open. But perhaps there’s hope for me yet. It’s days like this when I find myself inspired by a little girl that I begin anew to approach my “seeing” with new eyes.


Holly Huey – St. John’s College student