Sunday, April 30, 2017

Familiarity is not Mastery

Pink Cymbidium: A Study

Cymbidiums are in bloom in my backyard right now.   They bloom every year - the earlier ones blooming in January and the late varieties are just starting to open now.  When they are in bloom I move them to the patio close to the kitchen window and door so that we can enjoy them throughout their showtime.  In addition to that, I also cut and bring in some of the flowers.  As a matter of fact, a vase sits at arms length from me as I type.  I'm saying this to make a point that I spend a lot of time being close to these flowers.  However when I tried to paint one of them, I found it so much more difficult to portray the features of this remarkable flower than I had imagined.  It bothers me that my paintbrush does not confirm what I think I know.

Because we are familiar with something does not mean we have the mastery to depict or characterize it with accuracy.  It takes a careful study and understanding of a certain subject for an accurate retelling of the way something actually is.  In my pursuit of art, my style tends to lean towards realism which makes it even more frustrating especially in this early stage of my learning. The more I pay attention to my reference the more authentic my painting looks.  The closer my painting looks like my reference, the happier I am and vice versa.  We all like good art like we all like good stories.  After all, art is a form of story-telling using a different language.

 I will digress and bring this truth into my social life.  My relatives, friends and acquaintances from my different social circles are all familiar to me.  I interact with them in varying depths and so I claim with all audacity to know them.  However, in the same way that I cannot easily paint the picture of cymbidium, in spite of basically living with them, I do not have the license to assume I can accurately retell someone's story without first investing effort and time in understanding them.  The older I get the more I believe in the saying - "Little knowledge is a dangerous thing."  Stories made out of meager bits of facts can lead to deception and false representation.

Attentive listening for the sake of understanding - not for the sake of concocting prescription - is like staring at a flower for the sake of accurate portrayal.  There is a true story that lies behind every assumption.  But why is it that as social beings we are content in knowing just one side of the story of people around us?

Familiarity maybe incidental, but mastery is intentional.

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