Back in Europe in the late 1950’s a woman was riding in the first class cabin of a train in Spain. She was chanting to herself, “the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” She rode along chanting that line over and over trying to remember where she had heard it before.
As she chanted, the gentleman who was sharing the cabin with her looked up and said, “My fair lady, May I ask what you are singing?”
At that the woman burst out laughing, because of course she was chanting a line from a song from the very musical, “My Fair Lady.” After she regained her composure she explained her laughter and the song to the gentleman. As she was speaking to him, the woman looked more carefully at the gentleman and realized that she was speaking to Pablo Picasso the great artist. The woman gathered up her courage and said to the great master, “Senior Picasso, I know that you are a great artist, so perhaps you can help me to understand a bit about modern art. Why is your art so distorted? Why don’t you just paint reality as it is rather than distorting it so?”
Senior Picasso hesitated for a few moments and then asked her, “Madame, may I ask, what do you think reality looks like?”
The woman took out her wallet and pulled out a picture of her husband. “Senior, I believe that reality looks much like this. This is my dear husband.”
Senior Picasso took the photograph, looked at it, and smiled. “Really? He is so very small. And flat, too.”
So then, what is reality? What is art? In the play, “the search for signs of intelligent life in the universe” Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner invite the audience to distinguish between art and soup, by holding up a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and an Andy Warhol painting of a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. Reality surly must mean more than a simple two-dimensional snapshot of the world, even though the snapshot may be true. And yet, how often do we live our lives basing our understanding of reality on snapshots of life that we hold in our mind. And so, in the spirit of Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, let us all remember, that reality is nothing but a collective hunch and it is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it. In the spirit of good mental health may our connection with reality be light and light hearted.