Oct 31: My art history professor stopped her lecture to relay how disappointed she was that we didn’t dress for Halloween. My mouth gaped. I sat barefoot in tattered cheetah skin, layers of boulder necklaces, and bones tied in my hair: The perfect Flintstone Pebble. And my teacher didn’t think I was dressed up?!
Incredulous, my eyes scanned the room-The guy next to me had a foot-tall Mohawk sprayed fuchsia. Next to him was the entangled, hippie couple smelling of patchouli, turpentine, and BO. Then sat “It” dressed in black with so much hair there was no face, next to the feminist chick with more body parts pierced than not, and angry stickers stuck everywhere exclaiming what to think, how to live, and who to hate. And then there slept the dreadlock dude who, like me, was also barefoot but just because he had either forgotten to put his shoes on that morning or he didn’t feel like it-he really couldn’t remember which.
Anyway, everybody but me was dressed ordinarily. To seem different here, I’d have to be normal. Or loose my definition of what’s normal or weird and just be. So began my freshman year in art school.
My mom promised I’d learn the “tricks” of success. While, I did study anatomy, color theory, perspective drawing, master techniques of under-painting, etc., the most important thing I learned, was how to see-or rather how to un-train my eye to see more accurately and honestly for greater understanding.
To paint a table, I learned not to see “a table”, isolated from its environment because that’s a preconceived notion of what the table is. All things exist within a broader context and to depict them accurately, I declassify separate objects and instead view them in their being, interacting with everything around them. Instead of painting “the table”, an abstract, I paint the molecules of light, so the solid, uniform plane I once perceived, called “tabletop”, only exists now in space where light allows a corner to dissolve before my eyes. And another “corner” previously thought brown as wood is seen as cerulean reflection of sky. The space breathes and undulates, no longer static and solid as I originally assumed.
Recalling what contemporary painter Alfred Leslie said, “Reality is confirmation of expectation”, I adjust myself: I attempt to release preconceived notions by being quiet, long enough to let something else speak its truth, expanding my viewpoint.
This idea developed through painting, yet has life meaning, too. Each person experiences a partial truth, based on labels and abstracts for human grasping and understanding. But these exist within a larger context-of humanity, the universe, and possibly a spiritual energy and wisdom. Who knows? But this I know-While I define and navigate life through my own perception and needs, my viewpoint remains a biased, static, limited illusion created by me, unless I’m willing to listen often, honestly, to others, thereby expanding understanding and accepting my place as an important part of the greater whole.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.