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.