On Perspective by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Funny thing about perspective: it matters. I’ve been thinking about a cartoon I recently saw: in the first panel, a man stranded on a desert island sees a boat coming toward him and yells, “Boat!” In the second panel, the man adrift on that boat spies the desert island and cries out, “Land!” It’s all about one’s point of view…isn’t it?

Any good artist knows that perspective is about a real or implied horizon and the vanishing points that lead the viewer’s eye toward it as the artist attempts to render three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. (If you feel you need a refresher course on artistic perspective—or a master class for that matter—take a look at Leonardo da Vinci’s representation of The Last Supper.) As for the philosophers among us, they would contend that perspective is simply an attitude or viewpoint that impacts how one perceives the world. In either case, reality—whatever that is!—is influenced by perception to the extent that it becomes a mere shadow on the wall of Mr. Plato’s cave. That’s why perspective invokes belief more than certainty, magic more than truth.

The trouble with perspective is that it’s highly personal. It’s distilled from all manner of things: family, national origin, gender, race, religion (or lack thereof), sexual identity, political persuasion…you name it. And despite all these different potential starting points, we usually assume that we’ll end up if not in complete agreement, then at least in some relatively contiguous space because, after all, a good cigar is just a good cigar…isn’t it?

These days, it has become common to the point of trite to “agree to disagree.” That’s a cop out. While agreeing to disagree may bring some temporary resolution to a conflict, it doesn’t offer any meaningful long-term solution to a difference of opinion, let alone address all those untidy little differing perspectives that may have caused the conflict in the first place. It’s a messy business to be sure but unless any underlying divergent perspectives can be a) identified, b) clarified, and c) mutually recognized, well, good luck in enjoying that cigar.

But back to perspective. In these days of selfie love, I see a lot of people holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or pinching the Eiffel Tower between their thumb and forefinger. I know: it’s just a harmless tourist’s joke, a distortion of reality that’s supposed to make me laugh while proving you were there. Maybe I’m getting grumpy in my dotage, but I think those images perpetuate the fantasy that we’re in control of our perspectives, rather than the opposite—that our perspectives are in control of us. It makes me think we’re putting ourselves a little too much in the center of things, becoming a little too exceptional, asking for a little too much control, but then that’s human nature. We like to be the boss.

Perspective can begin as an unconscious starting point that leads to interpretation and often concludes in hard-boiled belief. It’s the invisible flashpoint that is potentially inherent in any human interaction. So, for example, does it really matter if I believe that my nuclear button is bigger and more powerful than yours…does it?

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.


Letters to Editor

  1. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    I enjoyed this piece. I think we all have differing perspective but when people willfully ignore common facts for flag-waving nationalism, our democracy is in trouble.
    It is in trouble because what we have is a man who won a democratic election but is now dismantling this democracy. Autocrats attact the press,
    pack courts, and attact judges that issue decisions they don’t agree with. Autocrats attact opponents by calling them criminals who are “enemies” of the country. They constantly
    villify the Press.
    The Republicans in Congress , who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, have abandoned their duty and should be voted out.
    And even the fact that we kid about “nuclear button size”is sickening.

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