black and white

I recently visited the Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum in Boston.

During our guided tour, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the painting displayed above - 

as well as the words of our tour guide who seemed equal parts philosopher, historian and sleuth!

She implored us to challenge our initial impression of the painting.

She encouraged our rumination of the image rather than quick appraisal and dismissal.

She held us rapt in her description of the scene before our eyes.


as she spoke and described the painting,

things that had previously gone unnoticed suddenly became visible;

a red hand print on the wall,

an empty chair,

emotive female expressions,

blurred male expressions,

the image of a bull,

a full length mirror strategically placed to the left of the painting resulting in the viewers' sudden appearance within the painting.

A resonant chord struck as I heard our guide say,

"The painting creates disorientation and confusion which causes you to look more closely."


My mind quickly translated her words into a deliciously perfect metaphor to describe our relationship with a certain type of thought!

Last week I referenced our habit of thinking in absolute terms, particularly when stressed.

With such thinking we speak of 'always' and 'never' and 'everything' and 'everyone.'

Things exist exclusively in the extreme.

It is either...

all or nothing,

good or bad,

right or wrong,

black or white.

People, places and things are categorized, compartmentalized and straightjacketed within these narrow and limiting windows of possibility.

And while such thinking may appear, on the surface, to serve us efficiently comes at a very great cost.

By eliminating the possibility for complexity, duality, shadow and depth we create separation, misunderstanding, anger, mistrust, and suffering within and outside of ourselves.

Absolute thinking often acts as an obstacle to our innate well being.

As with most metaphoric obstacles, the best way around them is through them.

And so,

we begin to poke holes in our absolute thinking...we create confusion and distortion, if you will.

We find evidence to demonstrate where such thinking may not be true.

We begin to build, little by little a deeper and deeper hole within our thinking...until slowly but surely we are compelled to take a closer look.

And when we allow ourselves the opportunity to loosen our grip on our sure-ness of thinking...

we become a little less...

black and white...

rigid and judgmental...

arrogant and dismissive...

hurt and hurtful.

Suddenly there is space to take another look...

a closer look

so that we may

see what was not seen

consider what was not considered 

appreciate what was not appreciated


understand what was not understood.


Feel free to comment and share!

*Dedicated to Wendy, Sonya, Lesley, Mika and museum buddies.



Lana Bastianutti