“I Know It When I See It!”
In trying to explain what is obscene, Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart uttered the now famous phrase, “I know it when I see it.” Each one of us may have used similar phrases when shopping during this holiday season. “I’m not sure what I want to buy her, but I will know it when I see it.”
But, what exactly is “it”? Defining what we mean can be an abstract exercise. “It” is often used as a generic expression of “worth,” but can take on a different meaning for different people. Why is this?
How we define “it” is a reflection of context, values, experiences, and expectations. “It” can be referring to a quality of service, art, craftsmanship, functionality, all of which are intended to identify, codify and communicate our expectations. So, is “it” really an abstraction?
The test for “knowing it when you see it” is expressed in behavior. As a young man, I loved going to the Chicago Art Institute. I could spend hours staring at masterpieces, surrounded, in the silence of others, sharing art that has endured the test of time. Such silence, in the face of beauty, speaks volumes.
Seek not to define
You know it when you see it —
Define it, lose it!