Trapped In A Painting

Callum Gordon
5 min readJun 2, 2023

What’s going on? Where am I? I swear I was just… Well, I don’t know what I was just doing, but it wasn’t this. Whatever this is.

I appear to be in a park or a meadow of some kind but everything looks much more flowy, I feel like I’m tripping, but no drug has ever done this. It’s like everything around me is some sort of feeling, rather than an actual place. I kinda like it. It feels weirdly as if I’m part of the environment, not just inhabiting it, like an NPC, I bet those people by the water haven’t even noticed that I’m not really from here… Wait a minute, there are people here!

They must know how we got here, assuming they got here the same way I did. Maybe they’ve always been here, they give me that kind of vibe. There’s a stern-looking man in a bowler hat just across from me, I’m sure he knows his shit, I’ll ask him. Excuse me, excuse me… sir! Lovely weather today, isn’t it? Glorious day. I don’t suppose you can tell me where I am? Sir? Can you answer me, sir? Sir, tell me what’s going on here! How rude! No response at all, didn’t even look at me. Oh no! He can’t move! I get it! Poor chap. Maybe over there… Oh no! I can’t move either! I haven’t been in this spot the whole time, have I? I thought I had walked over to that chap, but now I think about it… I guess I’m stuck. This is quite the pickle.

What kind of place is this? No movement, despite how flowy everything looks. It feels as if everything has only just stopped moving, or could burst into life at any moment, but nothing ever does. Oh my gosh, I’m trapped in a painting! I knew it! I knew someday this would happen to me someday. Just my bloody luck. This is just like that Goosebumps book. Or… is there a Twilight Zone episode where this happens? Almost definitely. There have been hundreds, and they’re not all that original. Scary though. Gosh, this is terrifying. Let’s see, how do I get out of here? This could be tricky.

Well, I can’t ask those people either — or, I suppose “I can’t ask those colourful shapes”, would be a better way of putting it — they have no idea what’s going on. I envy them in way, blissfully unaware that they’re not even real, just oil on a canvas. Or are they watercolours on a canvas? I can’t tell, I’ve never been that much of an art guy… I don’t think. But, what if they’re thinking the same thing about me right now? Look at that woman. I bet she’s looking at me thinking I’m just a pattern of brushstrokes arranged artistically to give the impression of a man… Ah! I am just a pattern of brushstrokes arranged artistically to give the impression of a man! Have I been this the whole time? Am I just paint? If I was just paint, how would I know that I’m trapped in a painting? I swear I had a life before this. I was a… Hmm. Oh, maybe not. Maybe I have only ever existed here, in this painting. Well, that’s a sobering thought for someone that used to think they were sentient, best push that one aside for now. Not a good thought to linger on, especially while I’ve got to focus on getting out of this darn painting first, I can figure the rest out later.

I feel like, if I squint, I can see what’s happening outside the painting. Only vague shadows and movements, but it looks like there’s the shape of a man hunched over. Is he the painter? Or a critic? How long has this painting existed? This can’t be right. How could a character in a painting ever see outside the painting? Maybe I just think I can because I want to believe in a life beyond this frame. Not that I can even see the frame. It does make me feel more real to think that there is a frame that I could conceive of perceiving. But I must be real. I thought of that Twilight Zone reference a few minutes ago. How do I know about that? Shouldn’t being part of a painting mean that I don’t have a mind and therefore can’t gain, let alone retain, knowledge about television shows from the 60s? Am I thinking right now?

Am I thinking at all? Could a character in a painting ever think? Well, yes, I suppose. But I only say that because I am. It occurs to me that there are plenty of paintings in which the subject is visibly shown to pondering some important matter. Maybe they’re all thinking ‘How do I get out of this painting?’ But that’s a picture of a person thinking, is that the same thing? Maybe I’m just post-rationalising it because I am trapped in a painting and yet somehow find myself to be thinking. Or at least, I think I’m thinking. If the artist covered the painting with a sheet and left the room, would the person in the painting still be thinking? If they drew a speech bubble above its head that said “I’m sentient and really hate being trapped in this painting right now.” Would that make it true? Maybe the only reason I’m thinking all of this is because there’s a thought bubble above my head that’s saying everything that I’ve thought so far. Lemme look up and see. Oh damnit, I forgot I can’t look up. Oh well, I choose to believe there’s no thought bubble.

Are my thoughts redundant if they’re dictated by an artist drawing a thought bubble above my head? Does that make me any less sentient? Maybe. But is it necessarily a bad thing if I’m not real? I have thoughts, that much is evident, or if it’s not, I think I have thoughts, which is the same thing. I have my own soul, whether it has been created by an artist or not. It’s there, just like if I was human. It’s almost a comforting thought; Characters in paintings can be happy. They can have purpose. They exist for their own sake. To be content with being a character in a painting is no less meaningful than being content with any other lot in life. A grain of sand on the beach may be happy, it may find no greater joy than being part of a landscape, wherein resides life, and art, and beauty. That beauty is not in service of any greater good. It simply is. Beauty for beauty’s sake. Life for life’s sake. This is the common purpose to which any being can cling.

Still, I would like to get out of this painting.

Follow me on Twitter @CallumRG21.

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