October Blog 2022-
Pick a Memory

By Jill Lawrence

I ponder a lot about memory. I’m thinking about it now because I have been having these vivid dreams every night. The dreams sometimes include people and events from my past. These “memories” are changed, added to, subtracted from, and made a new memory. They are brought into my present like a movie I am watching. I’m constantly puzzling, in my dreams, what is this about? It is like Carl Jung’s concept of dreaming a dream forward.

I recently read this essay from Jacob Stern on memories. Here is the first part-

“Pick a memory. It could be as recent as breakfast or as distant as your first day of kindergarten. What matters is that you can really visualize it. Hold the image in your mind. Now consider: Do you see the scene through your own eyes, as you did at the time? Or do you see yourself in it, as if you’re watching a character in a movie? Do you see it, in other words, from a first-person or a third-person perspective? Usually, we associate this kind of distinction with storytelling and fiction-writing. But like a story, every visual memory has its own implicit vantage point. All seeing is seeing from somewhere. And sometimes, in memories, that somewhere is not where you actually were at the time.

This fact is strange, even unsettling. It cuts against our most basic understanding of memory as a simple record of experience. For a long time, psychologists and neuroscientists did not pay this fact much attention. That has changed in recent years, and as the amount of research on the role of perspective has multiplied, so too have its potential implications. Memory perspective, it turns out, is tied up in criminal justice, implicit bias, and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the deepest level, it helps us make sense of who we are.” Jacob Stern

Art making is of great help in sorting and clarifying memories. Often a memory is a feeling. Undefinable and confusing. Where did this come from? What does it mean? We ask these questions as we psychologically work to bring the feeling/memory to the present and understand its meaning. Memory perspective is a fascinating subject to ponder and work with in art making.

 

About 25 years ago I worked on a series of art I named “PsycheScapes”. These images were created by a technique called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is the use of light, dark, and contrasts. My technique is to lay a watercolor wash on paper and then cover it completely with ground charcoal. I then paint out the light with a kneadable eraser. The image “Emergency Exit” is an example of working on capturing a feeling. In the image a young girl is seated all alone on a bus seat, peeking over the seat back in front of her. It is the feeling of traveling to an unknown experience or journey. The image asks many questions – Where is she going? What lies ahead? Who is driving the bus? Is she safe on that bus? What is she thinking? What is she feeling? Can she get out of that emergency exit if she needed to?

 

It is a universal experience to have feelings, dreams, or memories we do not understand. All forms of art bring light and contrast into our darkness. Music, theater, books, poetry, visual

Art … all these help us make sense and bring some clarity to our lives. My hope for you is that you are using art in its many forms to live fully and completely to bring light and contrast to the dark. Use the dark, don’t be stuck in it! Memory is so much more than a “simple record of experience”. “All seeing is seeing from somewhere” says Jacob Stern.