Between Here & Home: The lost art of window gazing

I STUMBLED across my old school reports in the filing cabinet the other day, including one from my Year 8 science teacher, who wrote, “…if John spent as much time attending to his work as he does staring out of the window, he could achieve anything”. 

Sorry Mr Campbell. It wasn’t your fault. My gaze has always been drawn to the hole in the wall. 

I was the kid mesmerised by the arched window on Play School

There’s still nothing quite like sitting in the window of my favourite café, sipping tea as life goes on around me; travelling by train with my nose pressed against the glass, the world blurring; wandering the streets of any town at night; the glow emanating from windows; lives playing out behind glass. 

It’s hard to believe, amid our cities of steel and glass, that window glazing has only been the norm, for the working classes, since the mid-19th century. 

Though in 1696 there were enough glazed windows in British homes for William III to introduce a window tax. 

It made staring out at the world an expensive business and caused some householders to brick up their windows. It seems the aristocracy have always found ways to feather their nests from the necessities of life – air, water… a view. 

I’m guessing the king’s vista remained unimpeded. 

Staring out the window, as Mr Campbell demonstrated, often gets bad press. 

But some of the world’s most important ideas wouldn’t have happened without some serious window gazing. 

Literary critic Burton Roscoe said, “Few can ever understand that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” 

Poet Billy Collins put it more lyrically: 

The birds are in their trees – the toast is in the toaster – and the poets are at their windows… 

…The clerks are at their desks – the miners are down in their mines – and the poets are looking out their windows… 

Of course, he’s not just poeticising about poets, but anyone who creates. 

Architects, engineers, designers, even scientists, are among history’s most revered window gazers. 

Indeed, Einstein described his Theory of Relativity with the image of a traveller staring from the window of a moving train.

I was at the launch of Bendigo’s stunning art gallery redevelopment on Saturday, and while all the new spaces are beautifully conceived, the Frances & Harold Abbott Foundation Gallery in particular captured my imagination. 

It has a spectacular, high corner window that looks upon a stone wall and the trees of Rosalind Park; there are glimpses of Peter (the rabbit sculpture) and, if you look at the right angle, eerie reflections of passers-by.

 It shares its space with the work of Del Kathryn Barton and Patricia Piccinini, but that window is a work of art without peer.

It’s a perfect view of our changing city. I know I’ll stare from it often.

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