Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr
What does that mean?
Note that this is not an attempt to diminish those who are into math, but to encourage them to try something with some soul and deeper feeling, in this case, painting.
The metaphor of painting a picture has a number of points, including being very emotionally involved in the creation of the art, and the investment in it which the effort and time produce.
The metaphor of doing a sum is simply to add up a series of numbers. It might prove useful, and it might even provide your salary, but it, at least back in the day, was a rather unemotional activity.
In short, the quote is encouraging us to invest some of our time, energy and effort into something which breathes life into our existence, in addition to whatever you choose to do with your life.
Why is painting a picture important?
Painting a picture, as a metaphor, it is an encouragement to interact with life around us, in both the paint, and the act of painting. In both the observation as well as the representation of the scene being painted. In both the emotion latent in the image as well as in the emotion of sharing the painting. It is about being attached to life.
Life ebbs and flows. Life has a rhythm and a pattern. It rises and falls. It has seasons and it has impact. The quote lists the opposite as adding numbers. Back in the day of the quote, it would have been a very boring and tedious thing to do. The primary emotions would have been frustration and perhaps a little hopelessness.
By painting a picture, you become more involved in life and it’s nuances. In adding numbers, you turn your focus away from them. This is, in my opinion, the main point of the quote. It’s an encouragement to enjoy life, to observe it in detail and record it as best you can. Whether you actually paint it, is up to you. But enjoying and interacting with your life is something you should not miss.
Where can I apply this in my life?
While many, if not most of us, aren’t much into painting, it is still a useful metaphor. What do you do to interact with life? I use photography rather than painting. I have also used music and sports at other times. What do you do to engage in life, to become one with the experience, instead of sitting by and observing?
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time for sitting on the sidelines and observing. Consider watching a play or a movie. If it’s a good production, you will feel emotions, you will experience life through the players on stage or on screen. Even though we aren’t doing it, we are part of it, right?
The same can be said of sports. Not all of us can play, but we can also be part of the experience, both with the other fans and with the players. Life is full of victories and defeats. So are our sports. And in our sports, we can be as involved as we want to be, without worrying about experiencing actual loss.
Thinking back to what you do to enjoy and participate in life, and how often you do so. How much of the rhythm of life do you experience? How much of the up and down nature of life do you participate in? What do you remember, and how do you remember it? Do you take pictures or write it down? How complete is the experience?
To me, the quote is about truly experiencing life, living it fully and with a connection to it. In today’s modern world, there are plenty of tools and technologies, including social media and blogs. Is that an outlet for you, as it is for me? There are so many ways to make this quote your own today, and that is great!
What can you do to experience more often, or experience it more deeply? Do you need to simply do it more often, or take more time to feel it more deeply? Do you need to find a way to get better at what you do, like read a book, take a class or find a mentor? Or do you need to find another outlet and expand your experience?
We all experience life in a different way, and at different points in our lives. But we can all put some effort into living more deeply and more completely in our lives. If you want to, you can do it by painting a picture. Or you can write a blog, take pictures, or get involved in sports, or whatever works for you.
The point is to live your life as fully and completely as you possibly can. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow, so make the most of today. Add numbers, if it’s your job, but when the job is over, live it up, even if only a little.
From: Twitter, @GorjisOne
confirmed at : second entry, ‘Address to the Harvard Alumni Association’
painting by cyril ruelle