This paper is about the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘familiarity’ and how repetitive exposure changes our relationship with things, people and places.
As a conceptual framework, this paper first considers the approach of American poet, farmer and activist, Wendell Berry to his farmland: that of becoming familiar with the land over time and through regular work in order to discover what it requires to flourish and become sustainable – what Berry (1981) called, during his Schumacher Lecture People, Land, and Community, ‘living fully in its own possibility’. It then compares this to art historian T. J. Clark’s account of his daily viewing, over a period of six months, of two paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles as detailed in the book, The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (2006).
In both cases, ‘knowledge of’ something (or someone) is not the same as ‘familiarity with’ something (or someone). Culturally and socially constructed identities, values and approaches may constitute ‘knowledge of’, but this is not the same as being ‘familiar with’ as a result of time, work and reflection. This paper explores how Berry’s conceptual framework can be applied both to making things and thinking about them in art and design education, arguing that Berry’s notion of ‘familiarity’ and Clark’s ‘prolonged looking’ place much needed emphasis on the local and (being) located in the production and consumption of the visual cultures in which we live.