“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”—Anaïs Nin
Whenever we create—whether in paint or stone or words—we edit what we see. Our perspective unconsciously creates stories from the information we take in. And those stories shape perspective in our art. And in our lives.
It’s the creative equivalent of the old adage attributed to Henry Ford:
“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you’re right.”
Or as the poet Virgil put it in The Aeneid some 1,900 years earlier,
Possunt quia posse videntur.
In the 17th century, the English poet John Dryden translated that as,
“For they can conquer who believe they can.”
Note the absence of the pessimist’s perspective. Virgil had no time for losers.
The Aeneid is itself an example of perspective shaping a story. Virgil revisits the story of the Trojan War, a mythological decade-long siege of Troy by Greek forces.
It’s the same general story the Greek poet Homer told so memorably a millennium earlier in his epic The Iliad. While both poems share some characters, Homer and Virgil focus on different aspects of the war and highlight its stories from different perspectives.
Eight million stories
One of the first police procedural dramas on American television always ended with the voiceover:
“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This was one of them.”
Homer and Virgil might have said the same thing about the city they chronicled. So can you—whatever story you’re telling. Start with your own perspective, your own feelings and observations, and you’re much more likely to create something original.
Proof that stories shape perspective
In the Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words Department, I give you this video from Canon. Six photographers take pictures of the same man. Each hears a different story about him, and those stories shape the portraits they produce.
Have a look. And think about how the stories you tell yourself shape your perspective.