Reflections on the Senses

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:

  • Baby's lightly crying in the morning, but not loud enough to wake other kids. Do I stay in bed and listen or get up, and maybe even get some work done while baby eats? (I stayed in bed.)
  • Kids are eating breakfast at the table and I pour myself some cereal. Should I eat at the counter and look at my phone or eat with them? (Chose counter) 
  • Sitting at a stoplight, do I look at my phone or reach back to tickle daughter's feet to make her laugh (Chose feet. Then phone at the next one. Then feet.)
  • Two younger kids are ACTUALLY NAPPING AT THE SAME TIME do I choose to work on this blog post or watch the season finale of Jane the Virgin? (Chose the article. I still can't believe it.)
  • I'm painting. Do I choose to listen to a book on tape especially since I have an Audible account with lots of free credits saved up. Or should I have Friends on in the background? (chose Friends.)
  • Daughter wakes up from nap and wants to have a tea party but I need to clean. (Chose tea party. And felt like mom of the year with that choice, tbh).
  • We have a free hour before karate. Do I put on a show for the kids so I can clean my disaster of a house, or call back the three people on my call-back list, or do practice reading with my son? (chose show and cleaning)
  • Kids are in bed, do I work, read or watch TV (I chose TV but I have my computer on my lap so I tell myself I'm working too).
  • At this moment I'm writing this blog post. Do I choose to finish this next sentence or look at Instagram yet again for a little procrastination break. (I'm choosing to finish the sentence. And now I'm going on Insta... OK now I'm back.)

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

organ of corti watercolor painting

Sight I: The Iris and Cornea

eye histology watercolor painting

Smell I: Olfactory Receptors

olfactory receptors watercolor paintings

Taste I: Taste Buds

taste buds watercolor paintings

Touch I: Pacinian Corpuscles

pacinian corpuscles watercolor painting

Sight II: Rods and Cones

rods and cones watercolor painting

Touch II: Pacinian Corpuscles

pacinian corpuscles watercolor painting

Taste III: Taste Buds (delved into some 3D Mixed Media work for these!)

taste bud mixed media painting

Touch III: Pacinian Corpuscles

pacinian corpuscle mixed media painting

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.