Sunday 11 October 2009

which viewpoint is correct?

coving viewpoint face viewAt the end of a meeting I attended recently my attention was caught by this ornate coving which stretched right around the elegant room. The craftsmanship and detail on display date to a time well before present, perhaps in the Georgian period, when such lavish decoration would have been expected and normative in a grand property such as this.

Looking for a while longer I noticed how much my angle of view altered what I saw. The top image is taken straight on and is what I saw as I looked ahead. A regular succession of white blocks stands proud of the background. This is truth at right angles to ‘reality’. coving viewpoint oblique left

What then of the next two images of different sections of the same coving? Now the rectangular pattern becomes a series of arrow-like repetitions. The first photo is taken looking oblique left, on the side of the room away from the light. The white paint renders as grey tones in the shadow. The second is shot looking oblique right on the side lit by natural light from the windows, and the tones are appreciably different. 

Our brains have no problem with these differing viewpoints. We ‘know’ that it is the same uniform reality we are looking at from differing viewpoints and compensate accordingly.

But imagine for a moment that this is not the case and that coving viewpoint oblique rightyour reality is the abstract two dimensional pattern alone. Imagine that you were looking at only one of these photographs without knowledge of the others.  There is now no sense of oblique or straight ahead angle of view. No appreciation that this is three dimensional ‘coving’. If this is your truth, what happens when you are confronted by the other two abstract patterns and told that they are ‘true’ too? The arrangements of line, light and form now seem radically irreconcilable with your perception of truth and reality.

The realities of politics, diplomacy and armed conflict often seem to be framed in such a two dimensional manner. Viewpoints clash and truths collide.

Real peacemaking occurs when the third  dimension is introduced. Space with depth allows different viewpoints to be appreciated sensibly within a unifying whole. It is now possible to reconcile what is seen from the perspective of an integrating truth. This is what happens naturally in our visual cortex.

And the ultimate such integrating truth is God. How desperately tragic it is that the great religions have caused so much violence and hatred to blight the world. Such 2-D views still condemn the innocent to suffering. Only the spacious, gracious third dimension of God’s love offers the hope of a way forward.


  1. Absolutely brilliant! Thank you so much for this salutary reminder to put God's love into every perspective, every situation, every relationship.

  2. Amazing how profound a reflection can come from something as everyday as a plaster coving. Very helpful model - thanks. Glad that you only noticed it "at the end of the meeting" - otherwise we might have wondered whether your attention had wandered!

  3. Very nicely done. I did something similar in a children's message with a home builder's trade magazine. It makes a very nice point. Too bad not everyone will see your blog.

  4. Thank you Pam and Michael for your generous comments