Arts professor teaches about seeing life through a dark lens

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A BYU art professor shared the lessons he has learned about seeing clearly through the dark lens of mortality at Tuesday’s Devotional.

Visual Arts Professor Gary Barton speaks during Tuesday's devotional in the de Jong Concert Hall. (Photo by Chris Bunker)
Visual arts professor Gary Barton speaks during Tuesday’s devotional in the de Jong Concert Hall. (Photo by Chris Bunker)

Gary Barton, associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts, began his address by quoting 1 Corinthians where Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” He explained that Paul was referring to the imperfect ways that people perceive their lives, and Barton then suggested that the way people see determines how they live and act.

To help illustrate the effects of people’s differing perceptions, Barton invited the audience to examine four different paintings of fruit from different artistic eras. He explained that the artists all had different values and perspectives that shaped the way they looked at the subject and the way they painted.

“Though all of these pieces of art are similar in that they are paintings of a still life subject, they are also significantly different in terms of how the subjects are seen, interpreted and presented,” Barton said. “Just like these artists, our vision is influenced by many factors that ultimately impact how we think, feel and act. Each of us has strengths, limitations and personal lenses that filter and color how we see and perceive.”

Barton continued and explained that seeing the world differently allows for innovation and tends to make life more interesting. But unfortunately, according to Barton, the abundance of information and perspectives in the world often make it difficult for people to see clearly what they should do and how they should act.

He then explained how an experience in college helped him understand how to gain a clearer perspective. While attending BYU, Barton took a job working in a bronze factory. Part of his job required him to weld. On his first welding attempt, Barton carefully prepared all the tools, materials and work space, but was then alarmed to discover that he couldn’t see through the dark lens of the welding helmet. His supervisor reassured him, explaining that the lens was so dark that Barton would have to rely on the light produced by the welder in order to see.

As he continued learning to weld, Barton learned to better use the light from the welder to help him see what we was doing. He realized that without the dark lens, the light would be too bright for him to see anything. In a way, the dark lens seemed to become lighter.

Barton concluded by suggesting that the light people should use in this life is the Holy Ghost. In the same way that the combination of his dark welding helmet and the welding light allowed him to see what he couldn’t otherwise see, the Holy Ghost and light of Christ can help people develop the divine qualities of faith, hope and charity.

“It dawns on me now, as I look back on my experience welding through the bronze foundry many years ago, that the darkened glass and lens of the welding helmet not only protected my eyes from the bright light of the welder, but actually enabled my vision,” Barton said. “I suggest that this life is the only way to learn and develop important and necessary attributes of the divine.”

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