The Value of Art.
I dabble in a lot of different mediums. Depending on who I’m talking to, I might introduce myself as a writer, or a photographer, or a filmmaker, or a gaffer, or an electrician. Even just filling out the bio sections on websites leads to an internal debate. Plenty of times, I’ve been pressured to pick one and commit fully to that realization. If push came to shove (and it still might), I’d say I’m a writer. I’ll continue playing in other mediums, trying out different sandboxes for as long as I can. To me, the thing that ties them all together is how they allow the artist to share a point-of-view.
Is there a medium out there that doesn’t assert a viewpoint, some sense of control over an image? I think this is what we value about an artist most of all. Of course, there’s plenty of other things we value about art, from their aesthetics, to the message conveyed or feeling evoked. Beyond all that, it’s the ability to capture a viewpoint, the lens through which they view the world, and even more potent, to translate that into something that can be understood by others.
This is true for sculpture, photography, writing, music, visual arts, architecture, film, games, you name it. It’s the ability to hear, and to speak.
I think a lot about the negative ways this is used. I wrote about the exploitative nature of photography in a previous essay. It’s easy to find something that’s thought provoking or resonant without thinking about how that affects others, or the power struggle implicit there.
On the other side of the coin, I have a similar sense of guilt regarding writing. In a way, writing is the assertion that you have a better idea, a better view, than most. If you’re writing, it’s because you think you have something to say. Something that might enrich others if they read it. This egoist side of the medium is something I grapple with, as I rarely feel like I have something valuable to add to the discourse. I’m just another straight white guy from the suburbs, yelling into the void. And yet, I must think I have something to say; as I find myself back at the keyboard again.
I think the hardest this hit me was after my stint at an advertising agency. I swear, I’m not up on some high horse, but advertising is a really problematic business, and not just for the low brow media that’s being continuously pumped to the masses, all in support of some really unethical companies. I’m not sure if it was mostly the hours, or the communication, or the nature of the job, but I left most days feeling dulled. As if my brain didn’t function in the same way. I once saw someone say something like, “The best minds of our generation are being used to sell you targeted ads”, and that’s really troubling if you think about it.
I lost this sort of inner-discourse with myself, that I value so highly. It’s a sort of running conversation that generates ideas, counterpoints, and spins some off into narratives or scenes or lines, that really spurs almost all of my writing. It took a few weeks after I had stopped working there to find it again, one afternoon wandering around the pond near my apartment, watching the geese walk tall through the tan reeds.
I remember standing at the edge of a steel fence, watching the ducks swim in laps around the fallen logs. Even though it was officially Spring, the cool wind coming in from the South, which seemed to spiral off of the skyscrapers themselves, along with the brown and dying plants made the scene seem like Autumn. I listened to the bus pull away from the stop behind me, as the commuters silently crossed the street behind it, back to their comfortable homes.
I was heading home too, but taking the longest route back. There was no rush. A mom pushed her toddler son on a swing. An old couple with a greying Golden Retriever looked at a menu taped to a window of a fancy restaurant. I had stopped walking to watch. In front of me, partially hidden by the rocks and reeds, a goose set about her work in secret, huddled to the ground, gathering up sticks for her nest.
It was just a moment, not particularly more interesting than the one before it, or the one that came after. I just happened to be there, watching. Now you’ve seen it too.