(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

(All quotes by Diane Ackerman unless otherwise indicated)

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something. . . . To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, all in one.” John Ruskin

“Seventy percent of the body’s sense receptors cluster in the eyes, and it mainly through seeing the world that we appraise and understand it.”

“Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth.”

“We say ‘light as air,’ but there is nothing light-weight about our atmosphere, which weighs 5,000 trillion tons.”

“It takes only a little light to stimulate the eye—a candle burning ten miles away will do—and a moonlit night, especially after a snowfall, will flood the eye with reflections, shapes, and motion. Astronauts in orbit around the Earth can see beneath them the wakes ships leave in the oceans.”

“The color we see is always the one being reflected, the one that doesn’t stay put and get absorbed. We see the rejected color, and say ‘an apple is red.’ But in truth an apple is everything but red.”

“Not all languages name all colors. Japanese only recently included a word for ‘blue.’ In past ages, aoi was an umbrella word that stood for the range of colors from green and blue to violet.”

“We need words for the many colors of clouds, surging from pearly pink during a calm sunset over the ocean to the electric gray-green of tornadoes.”

“An apple remains red in our mind, wherever we see it, but think how different its red looks under fluorescent light, on the shady branch of a tree, on a patio at night, or in a knapsack.”

“Consider the owl, a pair of binoculars with wings, whose eyes make up a third of its head size.”

“We see the depth, the smoothness, the softness, the hardness of objects; Cézanne even claimed that we see their odor.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty

“Opening up wide to the fullness of life, Cézanne felt himself to be the conduit where nature and humanity met—’The landscape thinks itself in me . . . I am it’s consciousness’—and would work on all the different sections of a painting at the same time, as if in that way he could capture the many angles, half-truths, and reflections a scene held, and fuse them into one conglomerate scene.”

“In a way, nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“Beauty is a far greater recommendation than any letter of introduction.” Aristotle

“In fairy tales, the first stories most of us hear, the heroes are handsome, the heroines are beautiful, and the wicked sots are ugly. Children learn implicitly that good people are beautiful and bad people are ugly, and society restates that message in many subtle ways as they grow older.”

“Thank heavens for the arousing qualities of zest, intelligence, wit, curiosity, sweetness, passion, passion, and grace. Thanks heavens that, though good looks may rally one’s attention, a lasting sense of a person’s beauty reveals itself in stages.”

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” Shakespeare

“Brightly colored birds turn us on, sympathetically, with their sexual flash and dazzle, because we’re atavists at heart and any sex pantomime reminds us of our own. Still, the essence of natural beauty is novelty and surprise.”

“That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.” John Berger

“Beauty is always an exception, always in despite of. That is why it moves us.” John Berger

“Intense emotion is stressful, and we look to artists to feel for us, to suffer and rejoice, to describe the heights of their passionate response to life so that we can enjoy them from a safe distance, and get to know better what the full range of human experience really is.”

“We ask artists to fill our lives with a cavalcade of fresh sights and insights, the way life was for us when we were children and everything was new.”

“There is much more to seeing than seeing. The visual image is a kind of tripwire for the emotions.”

“When we see an object, the whole peninsula of our senses wakes up to appraise the new sight.”

“Our other senses can trigger memories and emotions, too, but the eyes are especially good at symbolic, aphoristic, many-faceted perceiving.”

“The view from space is offering us the first chance we evolutionary toddlers have had to cross the cosmic street and stand facing our own house, amazed to see it clearly for the first time.”