C. and I spent the day wandering through museums. There’s a game we play whenever we enter a gallery: after spending a few minutes looking at every painting in the room, we guess each other’s favorite. This wager forces us to slow down and consider each image more closely. But sometimes, the game feels risky. After all these years, how well do I know C.’s taste? How well does she know mine?

How do we define favorite? Over the years, we’ve landed on three criteria, which sometimes overlap:

  • Which painting do you like the most?
  • Which would you like to live with at home?
  • Which draws your eye?

The last question has become the most interesting. I’m more aware of the images that magnetize my eye even if—sometimes especially if—they do not match my sensibilities. An uneasy blotch of color or the shine in some dead countess’s eye will leave me rethinking my default preferences and spiraling into existential terrain: what is taste, anyway, and where does it come from? Do I even know what I like? And so on.

In gallery E203 at the Getty, we both selected Jusepe de Ribera’s stern portrait of Euclid. Two rooms later, C. thought my favorite painting was a tranquil Madonna, but it was a dark picture of a pope. I’m glad I can still surprise her.