Focusing on the Beautiful
This past week I had the glorious good fortune of getting to meet the Precious little twin babies of my lifelong friend. I got to be with her and her family and other ladies from our high school days. Everyone looked amazing, especially her. Just six months after wielding her super-power by growing two other humans for nine months, she looked as handsome, lean, and strong as ever, her arm muscles as clearly defined as a Michaelangelo sculpture. The other “girls,” all in their forties now, were the same beautiful creatures I have known, only more chiseled and with more refined hair and jewelry than we had in the ‘90s. We visited, just enjoyed the company of dear friends and good food and parenthetically the subject of aging came up. The fact that even though we might feel pretty good about how we look in the mirror, photographs tend to reveal the dried-up, crow-footed Boris Karloff of truth. Photos are a bummer. A drag. A mirror of doom. No matter how good a party was or how many compliments you received, the Facebook post tagging you can retroactively ruin the experience and taint the memories. Even pictures we took during the gathering that day hardly revealed the true aesthetic of the moment or of the people assembled.
Robot-eye of Misperception
I want to argue photos are not truth. They lie. Mirrors lie too- they bend imperceptibly and change the light rays just so. My favorite mirror to try on jeans is the long one from Wal-mart that is bent just right to make me taller and thinner. I don’t look at my face in this one because it bends my forehead upward into a surprised rise like I’m Alf.
When I go to take a pic and the camera is turned around:
In painting portraits, photos are alright as a reference but they are never as I see the subject, even side by side in the moment. We see with two eyes, from two ever so slightly different angles. We see with two self-adjusting lenses that pick up the three-dimensional figure of others, unconsciously reconciling the two constantly adjusted and shifting inputs into one perceived reality of what we see. Furthermore, I believe we see what we sense in others; integrating our knowledge of their heart, character, and history, editing out imperfections, (or perhaps magnifying them, depending on the relationship.) Have you ever seen Oprah in person? She’s stunning and smooth and trim. She looks better than the O magazine covers. I’m currently painting a young woman from my RCIA class, (like Catholicism 101) who looks straight out of the romantic period. I don’t even know how I’m going to use her likeness in my art but I knew I needed to capture it. The ridiculous thing is, I took a few reference photos after our first drawing session and it was like someone else was in the pics. They looked nothing like what I saw, and nothing like her, really. I have the same problem photographing my roses. It’s like the camera can’t handle all the micro surfaces of the petals, each micrometer reflecting back a slightly different color, so it just gives me “red blob #2” and hopes I don’t notice. Part of this is digital cameras since they’re limited by numeric translation of input and output instead of the direct 1:1 exposeure of light onto a surface that older cameras could do, but my point is the same: being together, face to face, is how we are meant to experience each other, how we are designed to relate to each other.
Schedule Coffee. Put it on the Calendar.
We need to breathe one another’s air, see into each other’s eyes, and gauge the nuanced and barely perceptible aspects of a person. So forget the unflattering digital snap! Even an abstract painting by a good artist or a good friend with a pen would capture your true presence better and with greater clarity.
Mary Cassatt gets it.