Beautiful and inspiring post today from my friend Roger Fransecky at Apogee. A life of conjunction: And. No more ifs, or buts....! Being a doctor and a sculptor. Being a banker and a poet. Being a lawyer and a potter.

His post set me to thinking about how intimidated we often are by art--and how that holds us back from self-expression.

I believe that everyone has an artistic nature, though so many of us lose it along the way. Our gifts unravel, beginning with the snippy teacher who insists you color in his lines. Now, even more sadly, given the cutbacks all over the country, there may not even be an art teacher in the school to put before the child all the tools of making art--paints, woodblocks, papier mache, wires.

Even the needle and yarns that give teenagers a chance to try their hand at embroidery...as my son Theo discovered. And shared with our friend Caroline, on her heavy, dark winter coat.

Often, we relocate our abilities and our inner selves through a process I think of as akin to echolocation--the way bats or whales orient themselves, or communicate with others, in the darkness of Kentucky caves and Arctic seas. We use a kind of biosonar as a way to look into our own souls, feel out their contours, sense our direction.

Something flowers up from within our deep green depths, reminding us that no matter how long we've been around, we can continue to bloom, continue to surprise, continue with the business of torpor and regeneration. We can continue to offer the world around us our beautiful hearts. Gardeners understand this, but even there, we are hard on ourselves, telling everyone, you should have seen my garden (the work of my heart) last week, or even yesterday. Then it was beautiful.

Echolocation. We bounce ideas off the walls around us--literally. They may be covered with art that has attracted us, or ringing with music we love to listen to...And eventually, we begin to understand that even if we cannot make the art, we can support the artist, nurture him or her, learn a great deal collect....and before too long, we're refining our own artistic self (and keeping that day job).

Just wanted to throw this out there for those who might be intimidated by the thought of themselves becoming artists. I've collected photography for many years. And I've also spent years, as a magazine editor, studying the photographs of artists and professionals (and both, though often they are mutually exclusive.)

Now I'm taking pictures. Even that phrase--taking--is something to ponder. My snaps aren't art. But it gives me profound pleasure to see the world through a new lens, and to share the way I see. Next thing you know, I'll be sitting at a potter's wheel, mushing my fingers into wet clay....Sounds like heaven to me.


Karena said...

There are so many artistic ways of expression. If only more children were encouraged early on to freely show their gifts!

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Ashling said...

May I ask why you feel your photos aren't art? Perhaps one of the reasons many people feel so removed from Art is a misreading, misinterpretation of those echolocation waves. We're taught to believe that art must meet some nebulous criteria, and even when our biosonar system is correctly reading those curves and contours, some voice--ours or someone else's--tells us "no, no...that's not Art. You take photos, or draw or paint or write little poems, but you aren't an Artist."

To me, this blog is Art. The photos--your unique capturing of a single moment, your writing--also your unique capturing of a single moment or event or thought, weave a tapestry that so often brings me a moment of pleasure or serenity, evokes my own thoughts or memories, makes me pause in my day. What is that, if NOT art?

Unknown said...

This post came at the perfect moment in my life. Just spent the afternoon trying out my brushes again, after a much-too-long hiatus from art-making...and was letting my inner critic disparage the tentative marks I managed to make.

Art is too important to let critics, of any kind, stop us. I have always thought your writing was art of the very best kind; thank you for inspiring me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you !!
You voiced one of my strongest believes, which I've been pushing further and further away every year.
No more excuses...

Unknown said...

Many professional photographers refer to it as "capturing a moment"....as, we seldom actually create the image.

Anonymous said...

I agree here. Your entire blog is art or maybe artful. I am so thrilled that you share your photography with us at full resolution. I have a folder on my computer for 'art' to be chosen as wallpaper. I am happy to say that every day I am adding to it, from your blog. And the words are poetry. I often go back to enjoy the way you string words together. Thank you for sharing yourself.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

TRUE STORY: I got my "start" in this bidness when I was about 33. At the time, I was finishing up a decidedly un-artistic, thuddingly belabored dissertation on Thomas Hardy. Simultaneously, a friend who was opening an Indian restaurant in town had gotten a daunting estimate for advertising, and I'd simply started drawing ("Who can't draw?" I thought) and writing her weekly ads for her in exchange for free meals... a deal which suited her undercapitalized self and my gradstoodint budget.

The ads became somewhat of a cult-item in the local, independent newspapaper. A year or so later, I was approached at some barbecue-party by a very handsome stranger who asked me if I'd like to have a show at his gallery. I thought it was one of the flimsiest come-on lines I'd ever heard. Of course, I told him that I wasn't an artist; I just did some kitschy ads on the side for a friend.

He suggested that I try anyway, and I had my first gallery show that spring. It sold out (which has never happened since). A few months later, the editor of the state's major newspaper telephoned to ask if I'd illustrate the book review section. I told him, of course, that I wasn't an illustrator...that I WROTE reviews. He told me that he didn't much like my reviews, but liked my pictures. I agreed to illustrate the book review every Sunday.

A year after beginning that gig, the art director of the Washington Post telephoned to ask if I'd illustrate their book review. THAT time, I didn't argue about what I supposedly "was" (I'll admit that one thing I definitely "was" was hopelessly bogged-down and bored shitless by Mister Hardy and his herd of depressed women),

Well, the WashingtonPost led (and recall that this was during pre-internet/website days) very quickly to my first book-cover assignments for The Common Reader catalogue (remember that good catalogue?), which led to commisions from Barnes and Nobles, which led to offers from various other galleries and magazines. Also various independent record labels. I just sort of sat and let things happen, figuring that I'd eventually get back to doing what I REALLY "did". I the meantime, I found my "Actually, I'm REALLY a Victorian Literature Scholar" self accidentally creating a rather impressive portfolio.

Eventually,I did vaguely recognize that drawing the outsides of books was a lot more fun (and quite frankly, paid more) than writing about the insides of them. An older, good friend of mine who's a well-known director (faculty of Yale Drama School, etc) sat me down one evening and told me "The one thing I tell ALL of my students is that ALL work is good work. Don't ever turn something down because it's not the sort of work you 'do'. That's a very destructive way of thinking,and you'll end up unusuccessful AND unhappy."

Fortunately, I followed his advice. Things have turned out quite happily.

Not entirely off-topic?..my partner of eight years is fond of telling folks (who invariably ask "how you met each other?") that my immediate reply to him when he asked if I'd like to go to dinner sometime was "Oh, sorry...but I don't 'date'."

Of course, we've been together, in one wqay or another,since that night, when he replied "Don't be silly...give it a try."

I wouldn't be the first to have noticed that most of our cages are of our own making.

And now, the sun's coming up...and I'm getting off the computer. This morning, we're moving on to the clifftop village of Ronda (google it for stunning pictures). Last night, I read with considerable interest that, during the civil war, hundreds of Republicans were thrown off the enormous, gorge-spanning bridge in one day alone.

There's something so appealing about simple solutions, isn't there?

Advisedly yours as ever,

David Terry

Warren said...

As a bachelor I was a lousy date because I spent so much time behind a film camera, and then in the dark room. After my children the best art I did was with my kids, happily decorating low-fire ceramics.

They've grown up surrounded by photographs I've collected; now I find their photos astounding -- whether images of travel or our backyard.

I have pottery shards from the southwest, most date back 1,000 years. Even then in lives of hardship, taking the time to decorate their bowls, seed pots and water jars was important.

The Herzog movie about the 50,000 year old cave drawings reinforces the point.

And so do the walls in billionaire's homes. Art matters.

sam n. said...

only 8 comments and i already feel late to the party...clearly everyone feels as i do - your words, your photos and your perceptive thinking - it is all, without doubt, art. i have felt this way since i began reading your columns in H&G and both your writing and my feelings have only grown stronger since. rather than try to change your mind or convince you of the value in what you do, let me say (again, repeatedly) thank you for the joy and wonder and thought-provoking work you create.

Tricia O'Brien said...

Thank you again for an inspiring moment. I agree. We don't always know where we are going, but somehow we got "here." We are entirely too critical of ourselves and don't allow our growth to include art. Art is about process and our culture wants results. Its a constant battle.

As for art teachers, when my children were in school (elementary)about 17 years ago, our PTA association paid for the art teacher to come once per week to each classroom. That was it and it came our of our pockets. The district already deemed it the first to go. Being artistic and creative myself, I was heartbroken, but found other outlets for them through the community. My son is a talented musician/producer and daughter is a Spanish literature grad from NYU. Everything is considered a creative process. That is what life is.
Thanks again.

Violet Cadburry said...

I finally decided to purge all the labels I fly by except one, writer. That is who I am, not what my relative position is to someone else at any given time. This label fits quite nicely because I define what it means. That's the sort of tricky stuff us writers can get away with. We are literal magicians. Thanks for keeping me inspired!

pve design said...

I began by selling simple colored crayola pictures to make people happy door to door and to this day my clients feel like neighbors, virtual and all. Art, words, and the act of creating and connecting is truly what it is all about. Even a Hermit or a Monk needs silence to find the contemplative spirit. Working for me is that.
Staying quiet long enough to hear my next line or stroke. Surely your writing must involve quiet moments
to hear the words.

Sharen said...

You write "...it gives me profound pleasure to see the world through a new lens, and to share the way I see."
No "But" is needed.
Your exquisite photographs convey your observations and your mood in a unique way - that is all we need when to comes to sharing.

mes yeux ouverts said...

How true, maybe particularly so for the generation that has almost completed our child-rearing years and can see past the piles of laundry, report cards and after-school activities to something beyond, which might include also the person we used to know, before our chosen careers (and lack of time and energy) literally forced a choice and ended up repressing other artistic urges. I have recently started blogging, traveling more and opening myself to a world I'd not even realized I had shut down during so many years of New York lawyering; and what a joy it is! By the way, the reason I sought your blog is because of your beautiful article in Sunday's New York Times, which certainly caught my breath a few times. I, too, have two sons, just a few years younger than yours. And I feel as you do, so lucky in the moments I get to share with them, especially in travel, which I've made a point to do each summer, just as you said, "to have both of them all to myself for 12 entire days." Each time, I learn and grow and treasure those moments, while reveling in watching the men they are becoming.

Anonymous said...

Your words spoke to my heart and soul, as I have been on that journey in recent times.

Amy said...

And so can a blog be art - it's why I enjoy yours so much I link to it on my own.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece in the Times today too. My own 2 boys are still just 11 and 12 but my heart can sometimes get heavy at the feeling of how quickly everything is going. I tore out your essay and I will save it to comfort and cheer me for years to come.

KJ Dell'Antonia said...

I, too wanted to tell you how much I loved your piece in the NYT today. My kids are also younger, but in thinking about how to parent them as adults, I find I get some insights into how to parent them now, when it's far too easy to get so caught up in the immediate civilizing process that I forget to see them as, as you put it, guests at the table--to look at them through non-critical eyes and see who they're becoming.

Thanks for that.

Warren said...

Nice story about your train trip today, Dominique. I agree about letting the kids decide. My daughter chose NYC. Despite the August heat we had a memorable time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the beautiful essay in the NYTs (6/5) on mothers and sons. I have a 5-year-old boy and a 20-month-old boy (miraculous blessings after 12 years of infertility and loss) and my years with them already seem so precious and so fleeting. So many people tell me that it's a shame I have no daughters (the nerve) and so your lovely and loving essay touched me to the core.

Cristina said...

your photos already are (gorgeous!) art.

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