Writing & Language

Thoughts on Beauty

I have been invited to participate in The Anna May Project, [embed]http://theannamayproject.com/[/embed]

an educational "visual storytelling project that helps women and girls learn to shape and tell their own stories." The Anna May Project was founded by Amy Whitaker, who brings years of executive leadership experience plus degrees in Fine Arts and Art Education to the table. She seeks to empower women and girls to find their own truths and inner strength through the use of photography and visual storytelling.

Some of my photographs will appear in the first edition of Riptide Magazine, being published by The Anna May Project in January 2017. In the meantime, Amy asked me to compose a short essay on "beauty", which will be the focus of that issue of the magazine. Doing so was an interesting exercise, as I never had written anything on that topic before, and I was limited to 200 words. After finishing, I realized that beauty is a topic about which I have very strong feelings, particularly because it runs counter to so much that is valued in today's art world. Here is what I wrote:

"Beauty is strength, resiliency, and conviction. Because I am drawn to these qualities, beauty often finds its way into my work.

Beauty emerges from a combination of elements—the setting, the light, the ambient sounds and smells, the way people move—in the way these elements interact and connect with each other. I thus can find beauty in any setting and in people of all ages, because it is not just about how things look.

Making a picture that speaks to my definition of beauty is never a specific goal; rather, it is a byproduct of how I see and experience the world and what I want to say about it through my photographs.

In today’s art world, beauty is something that is scorned by many. Back in 1981 when I staged my Masters of Fine Arts thesis exhibit, "Dancing on a Wall", a mentor wrote, “(Your photographs are) … an expression of a vital ingredient of creation—the artist’s delight and love for a much maligned, old-fashioned, but everlastingly satisfying component of much of art—beauty.”

He further advised me to never apologize for that, and indeed, to embrace it as part of my creative self—and I always have."

Learning to stand up for who I truly am as a person and artist was one of the most important lessons I ever learned from that beloved mentor, Charles A. Arnold, Jr., known by all as Charlie. Although he is gone now, his lessons resonate and guide me every day of my life.

Describing Your Work to Others

Although I believe I am a fairly articulate person, I always seem to stumble when someone asks me what my work is "about", or what kind of artist I am. I inevitably end up using far too many words to answer those questions. In the January/February 2014 issue of Intelligent Life magazine  (which is published by the Economist) author Christina Patterson describes how Nobel-prizewinning poet Seamus Heaney used words to create maximum impact. There was a sentence in that article that is the perfect description of what I attempt to do with my work:

"He takes the familiar and makes it strange."

That sums it up perfectly, particularly in regard to the project that I am currently working on. Here's an example of my most recent work-in-progress that I feel effectively does that:DSC_2557 V3Now I just have to drill that sentence into my head: "I take the familiar and make it strange." and use it whenever I'm asked what kind of work I do. If only I could do that to the degree that Seamus Heaney could!

Starting a Project- The Inner Critic

Here's an excerpt from an article by author Mark Slouka in the Sunday New York Times from August 25 that I found totally relevant to any artist. Although Slouka is talking about writers, just substitute your media/field, and I think it will speak to you, too: “If writers agree on anything—which is unlikely—it’s that nothing can damage a novel in embryo as quickly and effectively as trying to describe it before it’s ready.  Unfortunately, because we’re writers, aka bipedal nests of contradictions, avoiding the temptation to share is never as easy as simply keeping our mouths shut.

            Why? Because we’re unsure—about very nearly everything. Because in our hearts we’re only as good as our last paragraph, and if the new book isn’t going anywhere, maybe we’re no good at all. Because we’re running on faith and fumes. In the early stages, before that magic moment when the voice of the story begins to speak, we want—no, crave—validation, someone on the outside who will say, preferably with godlike authority and timbre: “It’s brilliant. You’re on the right track. Just keep going.”

            The problem, of course, is that our inner critic, the I.C., is whispering in our ear that we’re not even remotely on the right track—that we’re blundering around in the wilderness, in fact."

This article speaks to me because every time I am in the beginning phases of a new project, my experience is exactly like that. My normal confidence seems to desert me and I am filled with insecurities about the value/success/relevance of my new endeavor. Can you tell that I am embarking on not one, but a few new projects right now??!!!