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.

Are you an artist?

Works in progress, on location, Provincetown, MA

I came to painting unconventionally, with no memories of childhood painting aptitude and little painting experience outside of my elementary school art classes. I’ve always liked to draw, but my ability to render what I saw was never remarkable. Playing sports and being a good student were more my things. 

There is some photographic evidence that hints of my early interest in painting, but being an artist was never part of my identity. I’m not sure what it would mean to claim that identity at age 50. Nor do I really feel I must do so, at least not any more than I’ve defined myself in other ways. Am I a painter? Someone who likes to paint? Is there really a difference? 

I don’t know. I’m just curious about these sorts of things, most especially how each of us develops and claims aspects of ourselves that have been unknown or previously dormant.

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Moving Beyond the Known

The biggest challenge to progress is our resistance to move beyond the known. 

I’ve grown comfortable with blues and greens, a color palette that soothes me. But mixes of red tones have found their way into a couple of recent paintings, perhaps inspired by the spectacular sunsets of late.

Although there are things I like about the paintings, a subtle tension becomes evident when I look at them, an experience that reminds me how difficult it is to gaze upon the unfamiliar.

The painting shown above is one example.

Of course, it could also be that the painting doesn’t work well in some way, the reason I feel a bit off center when I look at it. But I also know that our perception about what “works” is largely determined by what we’ve learned that means. 

How do we know what we could like if we never try anything new?

I make this post – open to feedback about the painting, as always – but also as a conversation starter about moving beyond the known. 

Where do you find it most challenging to sit with the unknown in your life?

Freedom: The other side of loss

Freedom, 16×38 on plywood

Change can be difficult and is often filled with associated grief, but freedom can also be found in the process of letting go. Major life transitions offer a special opportunity to find freedom in change, but it’s easier said than done depending on the details.

We just sold our house. And truthfully, nothing about the related details over the last months have felt close to positive, except the knowledge that we would eventually conclude the stressful parts and be another step closer to our goals – a simpler life, fewer possessions, reduced financial obligations, to name a few.

Anticipated freedom on my mind, I noticed the plywood board sitting on the side of the road – FREE in bold marker written across the surface. Instead of unwanted junk, I saw a new canvas for the old house paint I’d not yet discarded. This idea was so compelling, I actually turned the car around to retrieve the board after initially passing it by.

I’d already made two other paintings with house paint, which turned out to be highly therapeutic, as well as productive. See an example here. But those paintings were made on canvases already in my possession, the benefit of using them more immediately obvious.

In the middle of a move, the last thing anyone needs is to accrue anything new. Nevertheless, I found myself putting the board in my car, unable to resist the symbolic reference and the therapeutic value of a new creative project to soothe me between the packed boxes.

Although I understood FREE would be erased by whatever painting I made, I imagined I’d know freedom in the layers of the painting. I was right.

Freedom is a mindset, not only a consequence of release from unwanted circumstances. Freedom is found any time we allow ourselves to move beyond preconditioned responses. Freedom comes when we let go of expectations.

I am free. You are free.

Making lemonade (from the lemons of old paint)

Moving is tough, more so when you learn the new owners don’t want any of the remnants the last owner left behind (which in our case includes a lot of unused house paint, among other things that are costly to dispose of). After an initial meltdown, many days of exhaustion/tearfulness, and no time made for the creative things that fuel me, I turned the garage into an impromptu studio and made this painting using some of the paint to be discarded. Lemons into lemonade.

I will treasure this as a piece that holds the many wonderful memories of the house we’re leaving and symbolizes where we are heading. The surface is quite rough and highly textured (largely due to the limited paint application tools and the viscosity of house paint), but even this seems metaphorically apt.

Celebrating my 50th birthday today in the most perfect way for the day, as required – packing boxes, taking out the trash, connecting with so many of the people I love, and painting.

#grateful #makeartwhereyoufindit #partiesareoverrated #introvert #fiftyandfabulous #paintersgottapaint #recycling #makelemonade

Haiku #29 (#3TC)


Poet’s pen poised
Hummingbird hovering high
Artists’ amulets

© Amanda Reilly Sayer

This haiku was written in response to Paula Light’s Three Things Challenge, which you may read more about here. In short, the challenge is to produce a piece of creative writing by using the three words provided: pen, hummingbird, amulet.

I was especially inspired to participate in honor of my friend Tracy Crow, a beautiful creative soul who loves hummingbirds. The painting is an older one, made for another dear friend who loves hummingbirds. You might say this entire post has been fueled by the energy of friendship.

Much love to my dear friends, new and old 💚

Do You Believe In Destiny?

Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken made some, if not all the difference to me as a developing person. Rarely one to take the easy or expected path, I found Frost’s poem reassuring, even encouraging. But as I ponder now the various roads I’ve taken, I wonder whether I was destined to end up right here. Maybe all the fretting and deciding were superfluous egoistic illusions of control.

At a current crossroads in my life, I’m not surprised to see paintings with path imagery emerge. But I’m intrigued by the evident central path, significant to me in part because none of the paintings began with any thematic intention. Most typically, my paintings evolve organically, meaning they aren’t planned and often change – sometimes dramatically – as they are made.

I’m curious about this repeated theme, the one path. It’s almost as if my subconscious, maybe my higher self, is offering a reminder: “You’re on your path whether or not you can see where you’re going, worry is optional.”

For not the first time, I’m considering whether each of us has a predetermined path, sometimes called a soul path. This possibility doesn’t negate free will, which I believe we have. It’s more like being in a great river. We may choose to swim against the current or even to walk along the banks. But it’s probably easiest to stay in the water and go with the flow.

I am aware of making choices. At the same time, I feel I’m being led in a particular direction, even as I have little certainty about where that is or what waits for me beyond the next bend.

Do you ever feel this way? When you look back on your life, do you understand now where you were being led then?

My 3 most recent paintings

Our Many Colored Days

The past week reminded me of My Many Colored Days, a lesser known Dr. Seuss book. The weather was highly variable. So was my mood. Both were predominantly gray, which is where the story departs from Dr. Seuss.

With that introduction, I hoped you might enjoy a representation of this idea in five paintings. The series was made on the same canvas over several days. The paintings are posted in the order of their making. To be clear, I didn’t paint over the earlier paintings because my mood changed. I just wasn’t happy with something about the painting. But considering how different they are, I’m almost certain they were influenced by both internal and external conditions, which varied considerably over the course of days.

#1
#2
#3
#4
#5

Note: I’ve stopped with the final image because it feels like the most honest representation and works both right side up and upside down (as shown below). Perhaps a storm is brewing. Or, turned over, a brighter day is ahead. Both are always true. And wouldn’t life be much less interesting without our many colored days?

My Many Colored Days, 10×10 acrylic

I plan to leave this painting unsigned, to turn it over as many times as I need reminders to accept and embrace my many colored days. Will you join me?

I’d also be glad to know which painting you like best 🙂