Do You See What I See?

I’d wager to bet our perceptions differ, even as we may imagine we’re looking at the same thing. This is a truism. But it’s curious, isn’t it? By default, we assume we have a shared reality, when that is only partially true.

I recently posted to Facebook a photograph of a painting I made, my primary intention being to share what seemed like an amusing interchange between me and my husband. He said he liked the painting; I was less impressed and responded with something like, “If you really like it, you better take it to work with you, otherwise I might not be able to resist painting over it.” I’m known for painting over my work, for ruining a decent painting by changing “just one more little thing.”

The encounter was meant to highlight my struggles as a painter, possibly to invoke a chuckle or two. I can be guilty of taking myself too seriously. This exchange, and the telling of it, was meant to be an antidote.

What happened next was puzzling to me, but not really surprising when one considers how varied our individual perceptions of the same object can really be. In short, many people – many more than usual – responded positively to the painting. Some folks suggested the painting might be my best work. 

I was stunned. Really?

You might imagine I’d be pleased to have my work well-received, which was true to a degree. It feels good to be liked and I always appreciate when people take the time to acknowledge me in some way.

But more predominantly, I was aware of feeling dysphoric, confused. What am I not seeing here?

Have you ever created something you didn’t personally like very much? 

Of course you have!

Have you ever had other people like that thing more than other things? Things you’ve liked better yourself? Worked harder on, been more proud of?

It’s a strange feeling, isn’t it?

In some ways it’s a bit like going to a costume party and having people say you’ve never looked better. Really? Do you not like the real me? 

But who is the real me? Who is the real you? Would you know your true self if you saw it reflected back to you? If your art reveals something about you, do you know what that is?

In a world where wearing masks is a social custom, is it any wonder we get confused about what is real, true, and good?

Wait, are we talking about a painting or about being authentic? Well, I think they’re connected, at least in this example. Because I know it’s possible to hide the truth of who we are, even when we think we’re being open. Just as it’s possible to truly reveal ourselves without noticing, without seeing ourselves. For better and worse.

None of this may be relevant to the painting. Art is subjective; perceptions vary. But when the groundswell of something you’ve created differs so widely from your own opinion, the problem likely lives in your perception of self.

Perhaps it’s time for you to broaden your self perception, to expand the expressed range of who you’ve allowed yourself to be? 

I know that time has come for me.

14 thoughts on “Do You See What I See?

    • I’m not sure I could say exactly what I didn’t like. I wasn’t sure about the pink line on the horizon, for one thing. I wasn’t sure the colors worked together or if the scene made any realistic sense beyond my imagination. It’s much safer (though a lot less interesting) to replicate an actual scene rather than something my imagination has generated. But the more carefully I observe actual seascapes, the more skillfully my imagination conjures a reasonable semblance. So that’s progress!

      Thanks for stopping by, Chris. What do you most like to paint? Are you studying with a teacher?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting about the colour mix; that’s exactly what I liked about this painting. 🙂

        At the moment, I’m trying to sketch regularly, listening to lots of podcasts and reading lots of books on painting, and visiting galleries regularly. I’m also working on some small projects from the book Little Ways to Learn Acrylics, by Mark Daniel Nelson, which I’m finding quite helpful. Just playing and trying things too. Trying to learn how to mix colour.

        When I’ve got the money, I’ll probably do some night classes at a local art school.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. What an interesting contemplation, Amanda. I love musing about perception, those filters with which we sense ourselves and all that goes on around us. We’re conglomerations of innate temperaments and life-long experiences, and then we add choice into the mix, and it’s no wonder that our perceptions differ. Our interactions with art are perfect examples of our varying perspectives. Total agreement isn’t necessary (or even possible) if we believe in the uniqueness of each individual. The key, I guess, is being authentic to ourselves and valuing our perceptions, while at the same time honoring the perspectives of others. Happy creating!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the balance is key. And it can be tricky to calibrate self-perception against an overly critical (or unrealistically flattering) backdrop. I just started reading The Artists Way, a book I thought I’d read long ago (but actually didn’t). I highly recommend it. Ironically, the first bit of it (which I hadn’t read before my post) is about the barriers to creativity, one of which is the reluctance to perceive oneself as an artist.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Often, the posts I reluctantly put out into the world receive the most responses…there is so much riding on someone’s perceptions (like, how are they feeling, what season is it, are they in the middle of stuff?), I guess our creative pieces are meant to be released without expectations, we’re left with whatever might come our way, a delicious mystery unfolding before our eyes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that others perceptions vary as a function of their internal and external weather conditions. And expectations are problematic in a lot of circumstances. This particular piece was curious in that others saw so much more (as evidenced by their comments) than I did. A mystery, but definitely delicious, and a good nudge towards broadening my own perceptions.

      Thanks for stopping by, joining the moment, and sharing the vulnerability of creative work 💚

      Liked by 1 person

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