Why I Art

I’ve taken up photography and videography this summer. It’s always interested and awed me, but I never thought I had the eye or creativity to perform as well as all the other awesome photographers around me.

Sure, I used to record silly movies with friends and I got an expensive point-and-shoot camera for high school graduation, but I never showed or recognized any particular aptitude.

But studying story led me to books about screenwriting, which led me to consider visual storytelling and direction. I watched many, many hours of YouTube videos about filmmaking and visual composition.

In short, I got the bug. Then I talked myself (and eventually my wife) into dropping some mad dough on a camera, for a couple of reasons—one being that if I invested into it, I’d keep doing it, keep learning.

And so I carry my camera around, shooting what I see, amid snickers and stares from family and strangers.

This new way of living sparked an interesting discovery this morning. I wondered why. Why do I have so many artistic interests? Though self-doubt blocks me from taking pride in most of them, I argued with myself that my joy and desire come way before the results of the art I produce.

Before I began writing regularly, I already knew why I wanted to. And the rest of the mediums that I dabble in provide the same kinds of benefits that writing does. Maybe it has something to do with a pantheistic or mushy emotional value I place in art, and maybe I’m wrong but this is why I art.

It helps me experience the world better. The locus of this realization was David Foster Wallace, which I admit makes me feel a tad pretentious. But it’s true. Maybe it was just the time in my life that I read him, or maybe he’s a literary deity—or probably, both. But he saw the world well. And I want to do the same thing. I want to have empathy for everyone and learn/feel their stories. I think people are the most important things on the planet, and I believe personal relationships are my ties to people, and those relationships happen only through communication, and our primary way of communication is language. So I write, I learn story.

The other mediums help me see the world in the same way, because (here comes that mushy thing I was talking about) art is a reflection of life, it’s a manifestation of the way someone (or a community) sees the world. So I wish to learn as much as I can about the creation of art for two reasons: (1) to develop taste, to appreciate and understand others’ art better, in order to experience the world more fully; (2) to express my understanding of the world, which has a reciprocal/reflexive effect of making me more aware of the world.

Note: “world” is pretty vague. By it, I mean everything (e.g., physical, metaphysical, epistemological, etc.). So, that’s not better, huh.



And sure, among the many doubts I have is that if I’m switching between writing and music and photography and graphic design that I’ll never master any of them, but the quick, logical argument (the one I’d vehemently argue in a coffeeshop) is that I’m not interested in being a good artist as much as I am in being a good person. And I think art helps me.


Park Backwards is Krap and Cheever is a Funny Last Name

John Cheever’s Bullet Park (1967) won the Pulitzer Prize. About which fact, who am I to comment? It was written to introduce the topic, as a fact that might also validate the reading of the novel and give some credible context.

Anyway, here’s what happens: a mysterious dude named Hammer moves into Bullet Park (a suburb of NYC), meets a quiet man named Nailles (who has a son that goes through a depression), and then interacts with Nailles’ son. To inform you of the interaction would be to report the climax of the novel. So that sounds like a really brief, uneventful plot, right? Well, it is. The book’s narrative action isn’t full. But the novel nevertheless persists as a page-turner.

Rather than hooking the reader with its plot, the novel seamlessly introduces and then penetrates practically each character within the course of its reporting of the narrative proper. This is to say that we meet someone and then are told—again let me stress that this telling is consistently seamless—a history about that person, which explains who the character is and usually why they are committing the action at hand.

So I think Cheever really succeeds with the real truth that everyone has a story, rich and unique. But the problem is that none of the characters are good.

In Bullet Park, as in everywhere else the novel’s characters travel, people are fundamentally vapid and materialistic and narcissistic. And that’s only true when the characters actually choose to act. Most of the time, they just go along with whatever decision is easiest, as determined by their environment—like a woman who would make a cuckold of her husband but various odd coincidences prevent her from it. Usually the easiest decision is indecision and acquiescence to an understood way that things should be, like they were before, like we were taught.

Cheever, with two (it could be argued three) characters, investigates depression and a lack of fulfillment with the kind of world he builds, but these characters are either greatly thwarted or miraculously (read: inconclusively) cured.

Now again, the novel, at the micro-/page-to-page-level, is pretty great. Cheever’s a wonderful writer, with real talent for description and quick characterization. And he broaches some terrific techniques—that could be classified as postmodern; like, here’s the first line of the novel: “Paint me a small railroad station then, ten minutes before dark.” This introduction clearly calls one’s attention to the artifice of fiction writing. Again, mid-novel, Cheever begins to comment on the way we talk about traveling, seemingly taking writers to task, or at least calling attention to techniques of storytelling: “We speak of travel—world travel—as if it were the most natural condition. ‘Mr. X,’ we read, ‘then traveled from Boston to Kitzbühel.’ How far this is from the truth!”

But when we step back to inspect the novel from a macro-level, the worldview of Mr. Cheever—a man who lived longer than I have and wrote more than I have—is hopefully, like some of our turns of phrase, “far…from the truth.”