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When I first flipped open the art guide for our Academic Decathalon materials last year, a single painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze immediately caught my eye, unknowingly igniting the flame of an idea in my intrigued mind. It was a simple piece that most of my classmates overlooked without more than a passing glance, claiming it was just a painting of some small accident, some trivial moment in an equally trivial life. The image seized me, however, kicking into gear a line of thinking that had, until that instant, lain dormant. The inscription at the bottom contained two words in unembellished text: “Broken Eggs.”
In the painting, a basket of eggs sits innocently on the floor just to the right of a forlorn woman draped in period clothing. Three of the pure white orbs have rolled free of the basket. Another has cracked apart, its golden center broken and spilling freely onto the dirt floor. To the right of the despondent woman is a man who, while attempting to reach her, has been halted by her protective mother, whose outstretched arm blocks his path. At the painting’s edge stands a small boy, huddled and confused, trying desperately to hold together another of his sister’s shattered eggs even as the unaffected yolk spills swiftly through his minute hands.
I instantly felt that there was more to this painting than my peers were acknowledging. There was something inexplicably real about its subjects; their expressions were believable, their mannerisms authentic. What was more, I immediately wanted to know why they acted as they did.
Why was the woman so dejected, the mother so protective? Why did the small boy fail to grasp the gravity of the situation, taking it only at face value: that it was only a few broken eggs, easily repaired?
My answers ultimately came from a source I had never seriously considered for any reason, least of all as a possible major. Psychology, previously a distant word in my mind, soon came to show me the facets of the mind and human behavior that were so clearly personified in the painting. Terms like cognitive dissonance, conditioning, and the child’s developmental mind finally put names to the aspects of the scene trapped in my mind. Whenever I hear of “nurturing tendencies,” an image of the protective mother surfaces; at the sound of “social stigmas” and “conditioning,” the despondent woman again flashes her pious face. If we discuss developmental psychology and a child’s inability to process abstract thought, rest assured her small brother is there as well. Though not its original intention, Broken Eggs has come to represent the burgeoning of my psychological interest. Looking back, I now see a piece of myself in the painting: just as it is a snapshot of that single, defining moment in the young woman’s life, so is it the one image most associated with my choice of major. With a broken egg, she decided her future, and with the turn of a page, I inadvertently decided mine.
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