The Map is Not the Territory

isa catto art at harvey/meadows gallery

“Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Like so many Americans, I have been agitated and distracted by our relentless national chaos and have been wondering about my place in a nation that I thought I at least somewhat knew. I’ve responded in predictable ways. Old anxieties of mine surrounding belonging – and not belonging — have resurfaced. Over this last year, feeling unmoored and looking for antidotes, I’ve doubled down on my own advocacy and have withdrawn into my family, friends and studio. l wrote a clumsy book. I hid in the garden and in the hills. I read. I binged on Masterpiece Theater. Ultimately I fretted that all of the noise around me was reinforcing my own myopia and disorientation. I needed to reset my compass, find a new course, draw up a new map.

We rely on maps to navigate earthly and celestial terrain, and I feel grounded, in control somehow, when I am pulled into a fabulous map. Oh here I am! There I will go!  And then there are maps for our internal landscapes and methods we call on to steer through spiritual terrain. Mine help preserve sanity and joy—and trek through heartbreak and confusion. But they were falling short of guiding me through my own brand of American angst. When I rediscovered the expression “the map is not the territory,,” coined by Alfred Korzybski, I  found inspiration. “Territory” is the noun of conquerors, but I it has a more oblique connotation— a prompt to go deep instead of wide. I looked at my own territory with fresh perspective— the territories of human interaction, of cultivated and uncultivated landscapes, and of numbers. Numbers are, after all, maps to access many things, including the infinite. So I found infinite space in detail — territories within territories —and my sense of agency returned. In this instance I don’t require a map to anchor me, just a renewed commitment to authenticity. Here I am. Now I can go.

acrylic and oil pen piece Circuit
“Circuit,” acrylic and oil pen on panel. Opened March 1, 2018 at Harvey/Meadows Gallery, Aspen, Colorado.

2 responses to “The Map is Not the Territory”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for a beautifully worded statement, which resonated with me on so many levels—as an artist, an American, and one who has also felt untethered during these unsettling times. I am eager to see your creations! Warmly, Maryellen

  2. Deb Ferguson Avatar
    Deb Ferguson

    Gorgeous language. Sounds like your efforts toward self care brought you to a greater understanding of yourself and your place in this world. Thank you for sharing and your art is exquisite. Onward and upward

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