Food for Thought: Art and Memory

A few days ago a friend of mine jokingly boasted that his memory was “photographic.” “Well, semi-photographic,” he amended, “It’s more like an oil painting.”

What he meant by this, of course, was that his memory was both dependable and full of detail, if not always one hundred percent accurate. What he implied, however, was that having a memory “like an oil painting” was somehow subpar to having a “photographic” one and, inadvertently, that photographs are more reliable and comprehensive documents than are paintings. The latter has, in my opinion, been sufficiently refuted as to not discuss it here. The question that rather strikes me, however, is this:

If the symbolic difference between a “photograph” and an “oil painting” is that one is fixed, sterile, and essentially objective while the other is malleable, embellished, and essentially subjective, is not everyone’s memory “more like an oil painting”?