I've been meaning to write this post—part confession, part apology, part artistic manifesto—for a few months. It's been brewing in my mind ever since a local Christian radio station that I follow on Facebook posted the image on the left to its timeline. The original photo, shown on the right, is mine. Two summers ago, my dad and I spent the day hiking at Gatineau Park, got lost on our drive out, and wound up on this lookout just before the sun began to set.
God proceeded to treat me to one of the most beautiful sunsets I'd ever seen. The sky was lustrous, tinged with effusive pink and veiled in a soft, late-afternoon mist. It was all I could do not to squeal, so I channeled my enthusiasm into my shutter-release button, taking picture upon picture. Then, as if to complete the scene, a stranger wandered onto the ledge below with a book and a camera of his own. I doubled down on my shooting. My subject must have heard the rapid-fire clicks because he turned around and appeared to make eye contact with my lens three times, while I clumsily pretended to point my camera elsewhere.
The awkwardness was worth it: this photo is still my absolute favourite. And on the morning when I saw it in my Facebook feed, I smiled at how it had made the rounds on the Internet and ended up right back in the National Capital Region. Sure, I was a bit thrown off by the lack of credit and the editing—this version had a grey cast instead of the milky glow I'd laboured over in Photoshop—but it was a nice surprise to see something of my own pop up out of the blue.
Then, I made a fatal mistake: I reverse-Google-image-searched my photo to see where else it might be floating. To my surprise, the original shot had garnered a whopping 24,000 notes on Tumblr. The edited version had at least 8,000. I'd never seen so many digits associated with one of my works.
When I first got my camera, I did this nearly every day: snapped dozens of photos of a single, mundane subject—watched its edges drift in and out of focus, watched the light encircle its form, leaned back into the silence and held my breath for every click.
That was before the everyday began to strike me as boring, before I prioritized finding flaws over searching out beauty, before I began dismissing my work as uninspired and my world as unphotogenic. Lately, I've been dissatisfied with myself and my surroundings, and that discontentment has manifested itself in the form of disappointing photos. I've thought about selling my camera, because, instead of being an avenue into wonder, it's become another channel for my perfectionism and control. As I wrote a while ago, I use my camera to capture moments instead of letting these moments capture me.
But last Saturday, I found my imagination captured by something completely unexpected—something that I don't consider particularly attractive: my kitchen window. (The fact that I was trying to delay writing a [now-completed] 10,000-word essay may have had something to do with this experience). I picked up my camera and spent half an hour teasing out beauty from something that I pass by every day without a second glance...
The other day I was reading this (because I'm still on a huge Wicked high and I want to find out every behind-the-scenes detail I can get my hands on), and I was struck by something that Stephen Schwartz, mastermind composer, wrote to a fan:
...the last few months of putting on a new Broadway musical are extremely stressful -- there is so much pressure, what with so much at stake financially for so many people, so many reputations on the line, and the relatively hostile environment that is Broadway these days. And this is of course coupled with the reality that a production of a show, no matter how well achieved, can never really be what the authors had in their heads, so there are all sorts of emotional adjustments to be made.
I'm familiar with this, though not for the reasons that Schwartz is. He had to make circumstantial adjustments—some songs didn't fit the actors, others made the show too long, that sort of thing. I, on the other hand, experience this out of a sheer lack of skill. When I do visual art, I can never get things to turn out on paper (or the computer screen) they way I envision them in my head. My hands start improvising with complete disregard to the thoughts in my brain. Sometimes, the result is better than I could have imagined; other times, I resign myself to the reality that it's as good as it'll ever get, and pretend I made it that way on purpose.
Lately, washing dishes has felt more real to me than writing, drawing, or taking photos. Every time I pick up my pencil or my camera, a big "Why?" seems to materialize in the air, and I can't come up with a good, honest response to it. It's funny because I used to question housework in that very same way: why spend my life organizing and decorating a temporary home when there's so much more to life than that? Art, I've always assumed, is worthwhile because it's, well, art—it tugs heartstrings, it ruffles feathers, it captures beauty, it outlives you. When you delight yourself in creating, you discover a bit of God's nature. Isn't there something inherently valuable in that? But these days, when I force myself into the familiar motions—spinning metaphors, shading shapes, snapping shutters, lining up letters—that Why crashes into the scene and suddenly my work appears so stilted, so artificial and empty. What's the point, when there are far more important things in life?
And dishwashing, well... it's immediate and tangible and practical. There's no pretence in it; it doesn't claim to portray some abstract facet of the human condition or to express some aspect of my soul. It doesn't promise to live on long after I'm gone, impressing and inspiring people around the world. It's as mortal, ordinary, and unglamorous as I am.
Last week, I was lucky enough to fulfill a four-years-in-the-making dream of mine: to see Wicked on stage. I'd bought my ticket to celebrate third-year survival and spent an unhealthy portion of the summer in sheer anticipation. I talked about it constantly; I forced myself to stop listening to the soundtrack so that I wouldn't get jaded with the songs by the time July 27th rolled around; I even passed up an amazing essay topic for my music class because it would require me to wiki Wicked's plot and spoil the ending for myself. You'd think I was setting myself up for disappointment with all these preparations, but the show took every expectation I had and blew it out of the water. I couldn't have imagined a more tightly choreographed, visually stunning, or musically rich production.
I was particularly blown away by the sets, with their odd little combinations of steampunk aesthetics, Victorian flourishes, neon-bright NYC streets, and old-fashioned fairytale charm. One thing that took me by surprise was how bright the stage was. This hadn't come across on the, uh, surreptitious Act I videos that I'd watched on YouTube, but when I was sitting there in the fifth row, my face was completely lit up by the on-stage lights… it was like watching a fireworks show—lavish and effervescent and fanciful. But the production had a quieter side too, a gravity and tragedy that drew me in so that I genuinely forgot to breathe at times. The suspense, humour, and rockin' musicdidn't hurt either. Every song was perfectly tailored the characters' quirks and personalities—sometimes peppy, sometimes wistful, always lushly orchestrated. Listen to the Finale and tell me if it doesn't tear your heart into little shreds (don't worry; it won't spoil anything... though the comments might).
mistake the walls for horizons
and the summer for hell—prisoner
of someone else's war.
I live in a tower
with a man unbearably ashen
and a woman unbearably strained,
and wave away the sunset's scarlet
while the rooms shiver off
each day's ache.
Going to start something new on this blog. If any of you follow me on Pinterest, you'll know that I love collecting illustrations, photos, and paintings. I've come to really admire certain artists, and I want to devote a post every now and then to promoting, recognizing, and just enjoying their work. Sound like fun? :) This first artist is someone whom I discovered through Tumblr a few years ago and have admired ever since. I've seriously been known to spend hours staring at her blog with a huge smile on my face. Here are a few of my favourites (and it was really hard narrowing these down) from Kate Alizadeh. (Click the thumbnails to see full-sized images—you might need to scroll down a bit to find a few of them).
I think Kate's work strikes the perfect balance between whimsy and profundity. Her work a) reminds me of God and b) makes me smile—a combination that doesn't crop up in art often enough, I don't think. Her images encapsulate both the vast, spacious, awe-inspiring nature of the universe as well as its friendly, cozy, sheltering side. They capture the essence of what it means to be carefree. And she inhabits that sense of freedom in her drawing style—each line and stroke and splash of colour seems so uncalculated, unafraid...