First Exhibit: How to Use Your Eyes…

Zuha Ziaee, “Sock Feet” Photograph. (c 2017.) From the exhibit “How to Look at Socks”

What happens if we stop and take the time to look more carefully at the world around us, James Elkins asks in his book How to Use Your Eyes.

Elkins promises that it is possible to learn to see anything by learning to use the eyes “more concertedly and with more patience than you might ordinarily do.” This simply involves “stopping and taking the time to simply look, and keep looking, until the details of the world slowly reveal themselves” (ix)

Through a meticulous examination of the unspectacular, unnoticed objects and practices of our everyday world, Elkins offers a methodology akin to the close-reading methods of literary studies to make the world become thick with meaning.

P. Johnston. “My Dirty Window.” Photograph. (c 2017) From the exhibit “How to Look at a Window

I hope this…will inspire every reader to stop and consider things that are absolutely ordinary, things so clearly meaningless that they never seemed worth a second thought. Once you start seeing them, the world—which can look so dull, so empty of interest—will gather before your eyes and become thick with meaning. – James Elkins, How to Use Your Eyes.

The photo is a close-up of a key that says "DO NOT DUPLICATE" in capital letters.
(c) Mike. “Keys.” Flickr, 18 March 2005, photo. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic. From Elijah Basset’s exhibit “How to Look at Keys”

Elkins shows us how to look at grass, culverts, an x-ray, moth wings, and Egyptian scarabs. He shows us how to look at the devices we use for looking, such as maps or the inside of the eye. He even wonders about how we might appear to the eyes of a scallop, showing us that our own ways of seeing are merely one among  many ways of seeing on this earth.

The work collected in this exhibit follow Elkins’ lead as they strive to show us how to look at things. The objects and practices from the everyday world that are examined here are diverse: articles such as salt, coins, lipstick, cameras, mirrors, windows, wilted spinach, keys, socks, the sky, the hands and faces of loved ones, and much more receive detailed, thoughtful treatment. Under the writers’ gazes, we see the world subtly transform.

Enjoy the new perspectives.

– Monique Tschofen and Dan Browne, Ryerson University (c) 2017

Matthew, Varao. “A Heartfelt Sky”. 2011. Electronic image. Ryerson University. (c 2017) From the exhibit “How to Look at a Heartfelt Sky.”


Images in this online exhibition are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

2022: Exhibits

How to Look at a DSLR
Sariya Adnan

How to Look at Cherry Blossoms
Natasha Budhai

How to Look at Neon Signs
Veronicaline Daan

How to Look at a Video Game Case
William Downey

How to Look at a Pomegranate
Cristal Gillette

How To Look At A Sunset
Fatima Hammoud

How to look at a dive watch
Caleb Hara

How to Look at a Teacup and Saucer
Devon Harvey

How To Look at a Shadow
Andy Huang

How to Look at an Outstretched Hand
Julia McGolrick

How to look at Jhumka Earrings
Jayani Patel

How to Look at a Hand Fan
Tricia Simpson

How to Look at Cheese
Veron Zhou


2020: Exhibits

How to Look at a Snowflake
Naomi Shafadov

How to Look at a Table
Richie Ocean

How to Look at a Working Mom
Darline Hasrama

How to Look at The Bloor Street Viaduct
Emma Fraschetti

How to Look at Wearing Headphones
Kali Luckhee

How to Look at Colonization Road
Alexandria Carter Soligo

How to Look at an Electric Guitar
Declan MacIntosh

How to Look at a Chair
Shanese Dullal

How to Look at Lesbian Jesus
Vicky (Maria) di Donato

How to Look at My Mom
Katherine Gory

How to Look at a Sunflower
Daelle Shannon

How to Look at a Cross-Stitched Tapestry
Kelley Doane

How to Look at Bubble Tea
Joanne Stromska

2018: Exhibits

How to Look at a Toque
Cassandra Abas

How to Look at Handwriting
Kailey Adams

How to Look at Clouds
Aoife Banas

How to Look at a Couple 
Natasha Daley

How to Look at a Mirror
Sabrina Gamrot

How to Look at a Claddagh Ring
Courtney MacKerricher

How to Look at The Wrist Watch
Nikki Shapiro

How to Look at a Life
Alessia Savino

How to Look at Plants
Matthew Tse

How to Look at a Serval
Matthew Luna

How to Look at a Candle
Stephanie Palumbo

2017: Exhibits

How to Look Ayeyo in Her Eyes
Farheya Ahmed

How to Look at a Mosaic
Daisy Barker

How to Look at Hands
Britney Barnes

How to Look at Keys
Elijah Bassett

How To Look At Heaven
Amanda Conrad

How to Look at a White Cane
Kelly Craigen

How to Look at the Canadian Dollar Coin
Marceleen Ehrig

How to Look at Rock Salt
Jennifer Elliott

How to look at blue lipstick
Christina Esposito

How to Look at a Heart
Karolina Fedorci

How to Look at a Palm
Marion Grant

How to look at a record player
Jaclyn Hawkins

How to Look at Tattoos
Jesse Boland

How to Look at a Window
Philip Johnston

How to Look at a Mirror
Josh Kemp

How to Look at a Supermarket Aisle
Reuben Kiblitsky

How To Look At Death
Alexis Kuskevics

How to See a Framed Flower
Samantha Lacy

How to Look at Your Hair
Alex Lalonde

How to look at a photograph of a live band.
Kelsey McCormick

How to Look at A Clock
Joselle Mendoza

How to Look at a Bedroom
William Moo

How to Look at My Baby Cousin
Soujanan Muraleethar

How to Look at The Box
Elisabeth Nardi

How To Look at A Dog’s Nose
Emily Offenbacher

How to Look at Smoke
Moss O’Flaherty-Chan

How to Look at Wilted Spinach
Kristina Pantalone

How to Look at the End of the World
Matthew Perfetti

How to look at a Chinese Knotting
Sijia Qian

How to Look at a Polaroid Camera
Raquel Arcenio

How to Look at Atmosphere in Video Games
Kristian Saflor

How to Look at Magic Cards
Sidney Drmay

How to look at a picture of a recently completed tattoo
Monika Sidhu

How to Look at Eye Colour
Jessica Sirro

How to Look at a Painter’s Palette
Nicole Sumner

How to Look at A Heartfelt Sky
Matthew Varao

How to Look at Socks
Zuha Ziaee