Many years ago when my son was college-age, we spent an afternoon at the Chicago Art Institute together. At that time he was leaning toward forestry as a career, and I was working at a child welfare agency. We had always had an excellent relationship, and it had seemed that we had understood each other pretty well.  But that day at the Art Institute changed the way we comprehended one another.

He would pause before a painting and look at it for a while. I would say, “What do you like about that painting?”  He would tell me that he didn’t really know; it just moved him in some way. It seemed to tell a story that he could feel, that he could relate to.

CastleInTheParkI would stop before a painting or a drawing, and look at it for a while before moving on. He would ask me why I stopped at that particular work of art. I would tell him that I was looking at the design and the artist’s rendering of details.  I wanted to try and remember the method by which the artist created this picture in case I might want to try it sometime.

We discovered that we “saw” works of art in very different ways. I have never forgotten that day. Many times since, I have thought about it when my son and I talked together. We were so compatible, and yet so different. He went on to a career as a successful psychologist.  In addition to my day job, I developed skills in the graphic arts and became a bit of a computer geek.

Arts of any kind, whether visual, music, drama, literature, film, or something else, seem to be part of who we are as human beings. The Arts are a way that we can understand one another no matter how differently we think, a way that we can come together and get a glimpse of another’s thoughts and the way another person’s mind works.

How can we NOT support the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts!?!

— Halleson

2 thoughts on “A Different Way of Seeing

  1. Hi Mom. It’s years later and I continue to love art museums but the Art Institute of Chicago is dear to me for this very reason. Now I earn my living by listening to people. No psychologist would deny that listening and understanding is a very important thing to do, but understanding is where the questions happen. The work of a psychologist is to listen and then apply a model to shape understanding and then deliver a response that’s useful and then do that over and over in a progression that changes the speaker for the better. A psychologist is a person with a life history and feelings of one’s own and so forth so there’s that. Psychologists all listen but the model interacts with the person so no two psychologists are the same, even those who carefully strive to adhere to the same model. So here in your recollection of our visits to the Art Institute you’ve captured something that in my opinion good psychologists think about a lot. There’s the technical considerations, the model; and the impressionistic considerations, the person. As it turns out there are some case types where model adherence is most important and others where revealing oneself freely works better. And within each of those types there are situations where one must tighten up and stick to the model and others where showing oneself can save the day. And the rule books only tell us about groups of people, not the individuals sitting in front of us, so the decision is never clear. So I believe that we both looked at paintings the right way, and were we both psychotherapists we would debate the technical versus the impressionistic aspects of our work as therapists do. I’m pretty good at what I do because while in truth I’m not really a scientist or an artist, both are in me and I know well when to call upon one or the other. I’m sure we agree on this: Exposure to the arts leads every kind of person to become better at what they become.


    1. That was a day that still resonates with me as do many of the experiences that I have had with you over the years. I think that you and your sister are remarkable people. So different and yet so alike.I look back on my life and think: I should have been a lawyer, because I love the logic and reasoning of law at its best. I should have been an artist/illustrator, because I am so drawn to the how-to of creating images. By default, I became a registered nurse, and am glad that I did. I became a writer, and am glad for that also, although I have a long way to go before mastering that discipline. I became a seamstress to create and accumulate better clothing although that is slowing down. I became a mother, and of all the things that I became, this is the one that I value most but also the one where I have the most regrets for all the things that I could have done better. All in all, I have lived a good life, full of challenges and joys. It’s good to be alive.


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