This painting – like many of us on a personal and collective level – has been in a state of transformation over the last several years. It began with a limited palette of latex house paint, which laid down a lot of the initial texture and made for an interesting surface on which to work. Over several sessions and years, I added acrylic paint, more color, and changed the composition fairly dramatically. This painting seemed “finished” several times, was re-seen in potential, and ultimately became a springboard for something new. As a metaphor, this feels right.
I like the relatively abstract quality of the current version of this painting, the sense that it may still be in the process of revealing itself (becoming), much like a partially developed photograph. I’m noticing the burst of light near the top of the canvas, more striking in the actual painting which shows more extremes of light and dark than this photograph of the painting does. May this bring you a sense of hope, as it does me.
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 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.
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?
When someone asks good questions, we often discover new things about ourselves and gain insight by the chance to more fully articulate our experience. I am so grateful to have been interviewed for this amazing podcast – Accept Your Gifts – which encourages all of us to live our most creative lives. I’ve previously blogged about part 1. Here is a description and link to part 2.
In part 2 of this series, podcaster Tracy Crow, an author, writing coach, and Marine Corps veteran, talks with Amanda Reilly Sayer, a pediatric psychiatric nurse practitioner, about the “paintings I’ve pulled out of the fire…and some actually go in the fire!” As Amanda explains, “It’s a beautiful thing to be on your journey…and to watch someone grow.” She says that each painting also reminds her of the story behind the creation of each — its layers, imperfections, transparency. And, Amanda treats us with a reading of several Haiku poems!
You may find both part 1 and 2, along with other creatively inspirational interviews here. I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!