That’s blue, right?

My poor old brain. I am constantly trying to feed it things and get it to do stuff for me. I picture it skulking around in the shadows trying to avoid me, wondering how many hours until we get to sleep again.

Sometimes, when a new idea or realization hits, I feel my brain’s movement. It’s laborious and slow, like giant gears on a machine groaning into place. But when it has a really good reason it accommodates, grinding ever-upward until it a new thought sinks and clicks.

The other day, I was working on a painting-in-progress. My thoughts went something like this:

We’re painting sky. Sky is blue. Mix, mix, mix the whites and the blues, oh and a little red – is that right? Oh yes, nailed it. Nice first layer.

Now we’re painting faint mountains; background mountains. They’re – what’s that, they must be navy blue. Head for the blue, some white, and a touch of black. 


[Cue my brain, big dopey eyes wordlessly begging me to not make it continue working, scuttling around frantically for a place to hide from incoming New Information.]

I caught the thought just in time: WAIT, it said. Actually look at the color of the mountain range. Is it what you think it is, or is it something different?

I looked at the mountains and tried to remove my knowledge that they were mountains. I looked at the shapes and what was in them. Suddenly, I saw dark gray with deep purple undertones. A very different shade from what I had initially assumed based on what I know of background mountains.

Meanwhile, my brain begrudgingly lit up – acknowledging the work it had just put in to come to a new conclusion, sure, but also happy to be resting in the glow of new knowledge. 

The painting I was working on – see those background mountains?

Learning new information is pretty easy, especially when it already fits what I already know. The general shape of a mountain, for instance, is not that tough. Filling it in, with all the complexity of color and shade? That’s tougher, particularly when I’m working with something I’ll never fully understand – all the light, depth, subtlety, and majesty of true mountains. My paintings are only a translation between those mountains and the rest of the world, the filter being me.

As an imperfect but striving filter, I am challenging myself to look at what is and not what I assume. This very much hurts my brain, which craves comfort and knowing that background mountains are navy blue. Why do we have to change something that’s served us so long, after all? Can’t we just go to bed already?

The new color brought me closer into those mountains I was painting. I felt that I’d learned something about reality that had always been there yet I’d never seen. There’s something exciting about that exploration, taking place so quietly in the moment where I make a decision to look at something in a new way.

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