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The list of great loves in my life include my husband and children, painting, and, if I'm being honest... the Harry Potter series. I know, #nerd. But every time I have felt overwhelmed, or stressed or uninspired, I find myself opening an HP book to a random page and delving in. I have other favorites, too (looking at you, Outlander), but HP is the ideal combination of fascinating story, captivating characters and subtle but profound wisdom that I find myself turning to again and again. After reading the series more times than I am ready to admit I have gleaned some true wisdom from it, most often through the mouthpiece of that paragon of brilliance, Albus Dumbledore. Amidst all his sage advice, I have found one quote that has adhered to my brain with stubborn glue, continuously resonating within me over the past twenty years:
"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Initially I found this hard to digest. I'll admit I've always been kind of proud of my skillset, especially my painting abilities. I really wanted to rely on these strengths to define me. But a person's character, that building up or tearing down of moral fiber, is not a passive thing. It is an active creation and therefore cannot be based solely on static traits. Instead, it is a summation of your choices. So yes, Dumbledore, I am on board.
I do think this conclusion is rather obvious when it comes to big life choices: where you attend college, your major, your job choice, etc. A true test of character, though, is in the hundreds of small decisions we make every day. And this is where I want to bring the senses into the discussion. While the act of sensing is rather passive—unless I close my eyes, I am going to see everything around me—we are often able to choose the things we put in front of our senses and how we interpret and react those things. In these choices lie the opportunity to build a better version of one's self.
Let's talk examples. Here's a smattering of the choices I had just over the last twenty-four hours:
And so it goes. You'll notice that most of these little choices have a similar theme: do I choose engagement or screen? This, I think, is a very valid discussion for today and something about which I'm particularly passionate. The amount of time we (including myself! I mean right now I just had to stop myself from going on Insta yet again!) choose to spend disengaged and on our phones is rather sickening. When I'm trying to stop myself from reaching for my phone I have to clench my stomach and gird my loins because good grief, is it a seductive pastime. It is an anesthetic, a comfort, a delightful distraction from the strain and periodic boredom of life. But it is such an important battle to fight. To become better people, the best version of ourselves, a person Dumbledore would be proud of, we need to choose to enliven our senses. We need to choose people, choose learning, choose nature, choose activity. And while we won't make the better choice every time (we are human, after all, and life and parenting is HARD and we need a break to stay sane, don't we?), it is still incredibly important to keep fighting, fighting, fighting to make the small choices the right ones.
So that is what my painting series Reflections on the Senses represents. Each painting depicts a histology of one of the senses, caught within a tension of choice. I sought to depict both the seductive allure of the wrong but easy choice, as well as the lovely lightness I feel when I make the right one. They are a reminder to me to continue to fight to choose right. Here are some of the paintings:
Hearing I: The Organ of Corti
Sight I: The Iris and Cornea
Smell I: Olfactory Receptors
Taste I: Taste Buds
Touch I: Pacinian Corpuscles
Sight II: Rods and Cones
Touch II: Pacinian Corpuscles
Taste III: Taste Buds (delved into some 3D Mixed Media work for these!)
Touch III: Pacinian Corpuscles
If this post or these paintings resonate with you, do let me know. I have lots more to say on the subject, and I researched a lot of philosophers for this article that didn't end up getting a mention (hey there, Plotinus). If there's interest I'd be happy to write more on philosophy and the senses. Oh and let me know if you want a painting too, of course.