Our memory is imperfect. If you closed your eyes after looking around for a few seconds and recited everything you saw in the room around you, you would do two things: you would not remember everything you saw, plus you would add things that weren’t there. If you gave yourself even more time to view your surroundings, perhaps you would recall more – but you would never remember everything. Then, if you waited a day or two and tried again, you would add things that weren’t there and forget even more than before. So now imagine painting or drawing something from memory - your accuracy will be significantly diminished.
Unlike the plein air painters of Sedona or those who work in a studio from models, photographs or a still life – the artist that creates from memory produces a much different work of art. We just aren’t wired to recall accurately everything we see. Instead, our information is consolidated into a single memory link of an event. So if you are staring into the cosmos, watching a meteor shower with friends, all your memories will be stored into that one particular link. Everything you remember will be filed in your consciousness under “meteor shower,” etc. From this single point of memory, all retained information about the particular time you spent is placed into your working memory (under “meteor shower”) and from there we think about the details we have retained about the event. So this is where the details get sketchy at best.
Typically there is no need to pay attention to all the details in our surroundings. Therefore the information that we actually pay attention to varies depending on the experience. This information will be different to everyone. Take my Photographing Essence workshop – students go out into nature and sit, meditate, take in the environment and then photograph what they feel. The experience is so different from everyone and can be seen clearly in the photographs they produce. Is your focus on the creek, or rustling wind, or insects busily fussing over flowers? The details are experiences that even those photographs won’t completely accurately capture of the memory we personally had.
But we haven’t even touched the subject of memory yet.
After an event and the memories that were created in our one memory link, our minds begin an encoding process. Encoding is the process of organizing information that will be stored in our long-term memory. Our minds decide what to keep and what to discard. This is profound because yes – we DISCARD memories that our minds feel are unnecessary. We generally remember important events and anything that holds a special meaning to us, but it’s all limited to only what we pay attention to. (And we only pay attention to a few things at a time, as seen by our exercise early on.) After all this is completed the brain stores the information and develops paths to the stored information. There are cues the mind creates along the way to use to recall the information later. (Such as “meteor shower”)
The final process of memory and the one that this blog is about is retrieval. This is where we pull up the information stored by accessing the cues that our mind created. So through this jigsaw puzzle of stored material, we have our final memory of what took place. Ironically, this could be a memory of something that happened a decade ago to something that happened this morning. When the memory was created, stored and filed away is not relevant, the important part of all of this is the fact that our memories are faulty. We fill in blanks and add, subtract and rebuild our memories of what we experience, see, smell, eat and touch.
So what’s the point of all this?
Artists truly do create from their souls. The artist recalls bits and pieces of information that was stored through an experience that only they could truly interpret through their art. It’s an experience they materialized from their souls in the form of art you’re admiring right now. Of course our memory of this will be faulty, but in the end it will be our own - our very own memory of an experience that was created through an imperfect, inaccurate representation of a feeling that we once experienced. For me, this takes art appreciation to an entirely new level. For you, I just hope you remember reading this.
Kelli Klymenko is an artist, storyteller, photographer, teacher, yogi, husband, father, science aficionado, marketing director and free thinker - experiencing life in one of the most inspiring and picturesque places on earth with his fabulous wife and children. “Remember: grow; learn; conserve; preserve; create; question; educate; change; and free your mind.” – KelliKlymenko.com