I know it’s a bit of a cliché already, but I’ll say it anyway. We’re all artists. What is art but a personal response to the world around us, and a means of expressing that? Woody Guthrie once said something to the effect that our modern society is the first that pays professionals to make our music for us, and that’s true of other art forms as well. The role of artist has been placed on a pedestal, and has been treated as an almost holy position that only a chosen few can fill. But nothing is further from the truth. Each and every one of us is born with the spark of creativity and expression. That’s not to say the talent and skills are equal in everybody, but the spark is there. Skills can be learned. Talent can be encouraged and nurtured.
Kids know this instinctively. Just give a child a box of crayons and some paper and watch what happens. Picture after picture flies off the table, and before long the refrigerator is papered top to bottom with the latest masterpieces. It comes naturally.
Too often our artistic side is crushed over the years. We are taught through years of school to pursue more practical skills, to find a career, to prepare ourselves for a world of commerce and consumption. The arts, though not totally discouraged, are given short shrift, are considered hobbies and pastimes, but are seldom thought of as suitable options for adult life. Societal pressure, peer pressure, family expectations — these all further reinforce that attitude. As well-meaning as it may be, it can still be crushing to a young person. The message? Forget about art. You gotta have a real job.
Then, in most cases, comes marriage, that job, the mortgage, the responsibilities of modern American adulthood. Artistic aspirations get crushed even deeper into the dirt. Soon they’re buried and forgotten. A few may continue to pursue art as a hobby. Others might rediscover creative pursuits later in life. Most lose touch with their creative impulses altogether. Their voices are stilled. It’s tragic. A rare few don’t get sidetracked and live a life built around their need to create art. They’re the ones we commonly call artists.
I’m going to steal a couple of brief snippets from Andreas Feininger’s book The Creative Photographer here. It was written in 1955, but much of what he wrote is timeless. He says about the drive to create:
“It is this force which created our culture. I have seen it at work in others, I have felt it in myself. It defies analysis and reason. It is simply there, as elementary as the drives of hunger and sex, and it demands release…
…No one will ever know the number of talents crushed before they had a chance to develop, to mature, to give to all of us — victims of a system devoted almost exclusively to the creation of material wealth.”
That camera in your hand is a marvelous instrument. Get out there and use it. Use it well, and show us your stuff. You’re an artist. The world needs you.
pj johnson -- photographer
the american west
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