Putting Things in Context

My life is constantly bombarded with headline news, vast amounts of social information that’s hard to process, my own embedded perceptions from personal life experience, and books and art I can’t often comprehend.

There’s so much information coming at me all the time it’s hard to determine what I should let in and what I should throw in the crapper.

As a chronic over thinker, this vast amount of information lands in my head, filling it with  simple and complex thoughts and ideas I rarely understand how to navigate. For the most part, I store the ideas, pulling them out of my brain crevices when needed. But more often, I forget about them as I do most decidedly unimportant information, its relevance decided by my forgetfulness.

After I moved to the city I began visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art on a regular basis. A friend and I go to hear spotlight tours, talks about a different piece of artwork every week.

The talks have changed my perception of what I thought I knew about the art I saw.

One week the talk was about a Mondrian painting.

At first I didn’t want to go. I’d heard of Mondrian, knew his work visually and didn’t understand why it was hanging in a world renown museum. I thought to myself “how interesting can those paintings be? They’re just a bunch of lines with some color thrown in. I could paint that myself.”

My friend felt the same, but we went anyway, as a way to satiate our curiosity.

The talk blew my mind. I had no idea that I would learn these seemingly simplistic pieces of artwork were all about changing and reinterpreting the system that was in place during this time in history. Mondrian started as a landscape painter and broke down the objects into what became the modern work he is now known for. Those seemingly basic lines intricately constructed a visual representation of an art world Mondrian wanted to challenge.

This new information changed the context of how I viewed his artwork. The abstract lines and bursts of color were put in a different context then the simplistic idea I previously believed when I didn’t know its origins and only saw it as paint on a canvas.

A few weeks later at the request of my good friend who’s judgement I trust, I read Becoming, by Michelle Obama.

I usually shy away from autobiography. My belief is they are boring with no plot twists or excitement and leave little room for introspective thought.

Plus, at the time Obama was elected President, I was still pretty firm in the Republican beliefs I had been taught by my parents. Reading a book with a self perceived left leaning political slant would certainly be blasphemous to the confines of what I thought was politically “right”.

But in my new mindset of exploring and challenging the beliefs I held as truth, I picked up the book.

This book taught me I was blatantly wrong about my perception of the Obama’s. The assumptions I made from the headlines I saw at the time were drastically different from the representation made by Michelle of her husbands meteoric rise to the Presidency. Her thorough explanations of their humble beginnings were not the norm for the political rising they experienced. Their lives were not pigeonholed into the political machines most of our present day politicians are part of.

Plus, the nuances of living in the White House were really interesting…

But I had no idea. At the time I had only believed what the news editors wanted me to see.

Opening my closed mind to a different possibility allowed me context to their lives, their struggles and eventual climb to the White House. A vantage point I could never understand if all I chose to see was what I already knew and wanted to believe.

Seeing these two examples in a new context created a greater shift in my thought process. I came to see the Obama’s in a different context then what I had previously been sold.

I learned that art isn’t only about the medium used in it’s expression.

I learned there are histories and meanings behind all of us that build who we become but others rarely see when only faced with the present.

Putting histories in context forces us to see our surroundings as they are – not as we want them to be.

If the simplicity of understanding the context of these two subjects was so confounding, what else was I misrepresenting in my mind because I didn’t understand the context?

Everything. Well almost everything. There are quite a few things I have context around that others may not.

Everything I judged from my closed vantage point was a way to create safety for the small world where I wanted to live. The world where I felt safe. The world I could control. If I only believed what I chose to believe I could maintain my feeling of security, keeping any obverse beliefs out of view.

Opposing points of view I chose to keep at bay.

Questioning my closely held beliefs, putting historical significance in context, forced and challenged me to question what I held to be true – what I thought I understood.

And slowly, my beliefs began to widen. The context making me realize that now, instead of judging something I thought I knew, I have come to understand that there is definitely more context to what I see, then I can see.

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