My friend Anna was sitting in my studio, telling me about her job.
She switched topics in mid-sentence to ask, “What are you doing?”
“I’m working on some mirrors,” I said. “I’m collaging the frames and adding interesting statements to them, something that would make someone looking in a mirror get a new perspective, think of something different, get more than a reflection of themselves. Maybe reflect on something more than their image.” I was in an artistic frame of mind. Anna looked at the one I had just finished.
“Is that one done?” she asked.
“Yes, that one is,” I said, “but I need to decide what to do with the others.”
Anna looked puzzled. “But that one does what you said. So why aren’t you going to make the others just like that one?”
Anna can be the essence of practicality. I love her for it. That statement gave me the idea of making more than one mirror with the same look or words. It is a great idea that I hadn’t thought of. I think of my pieces as one-of-a-kind, but they don’t have to be.
“There is more than one answer here,” I said.
“But there is only one right answer,” Anna said.
I smiled. Anna is younger than I am, and went to school to learn answers. I went to school during the time we questioned answers.
“Is the one right answer therefore the truth?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” she said.
Separating Truth from Fact
I grabbed a piece of paper and drew on it: a triangle, a circle, and a half-circle. “Which one doesn’t belong?” I asked Anna.
“The triangle, because the other two are round figures.”
“You are right,” I said, and Anna smiled.
“But how about the circle, as it has no straight lines making it up? Or how about the half-circle, as it is the only one made up of a curved line and a straight line?”
Anna wasn’t smiling.
“That’s a trick question,” she said. “And you said I was right.”
“You answer is right, but there is more than one right answer.”
Anna looked thoughtful. “So my right answer was just the first right answer?”
“Exactly. And then you stopped, because you thought it was the only right answer. But most questions have lots of different answers, and many of them can be right, given your perspective,” I said.
“Does that happen all the time?”
“Yes. That’s what creativity is. More than one right answer.”
“So, when I said the right answer was always the truth, how about that?”
Anna was on a roll, and without knowing it, she was being very creative, something that would have surprised her.
“Remember a few years ago, when everyone was saying, ‘perception is reality’?”
“Sure, and it is. Isn’t it? I mean, if the sun is shining and I think it’s daytime, well, it is.”
“Anna, supposing I came up to you and said, ‘you are a liar.’ Does that make you a liar?”
“No, of course not. That’s just your opinion.”
“Right. My opinion is not your reality.”
Anna looked thoughtful. “So perception isn’t really reality. My perception is my reality . . . unless I change my mind. So the saying might mean, ‘My perception is my reality right now.’”
“Exactly! And your perspective—and perception—can change. And your reality may not be my reality. So when I talk to you, I’m in the presence of your reality, but that doesn’t make it the only one, or the right one.”
Anna smiled. “And that’s why you are an artist, and I’m not.”
It’s great to have friends. It’s even better to have friends with different realities.
Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to QuinnCreative@yahoo.com. Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art (North Light Books, July, 2011).
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