Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice

I am standing at the front of the classroom, leaning on the podium as thirty-three high school students stare at me. Some eyes are alive with interest, others were glazed with boredom when they entered the classroom and have not changed. My tattered copy of Don Quixote flops in my left hand. The mad knight has fought windmills, puissant Biscayns, troublesome sheep, and now, with dreamy persistence, searches for the golden helmet of Mambrino. The eyes stare. A hand from the back rises. "Who cares?" asks the young inquisitor. "Why do we need to read this story?"

I pause, because this is the most important question of the whole school year. If I fail this question, the whole year is easily lost. "We tell stories to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning."

(excerpt from "Before He Melts Away," by James Hanmer. Shambhla Sun, January 2014.)

We tell stories to convince ourselves that our lives have meaning. This is the essence of art making. Convincing ourselves that our lives have meaning. Trying to make sense out of the ups and downs, the craziness, the complications. 

I realized some years ago that this is why I make photographs. Everything seems to fall neatly into place when I make pictures, and, for a time, it feels like my life has meaning, purpose. 

Art making is a practice, like prayer or meditation or yoga. As artists, we practice being open to what art tells us about ourselves. We seek those moments when everything falls into place. We practice finding out who we are. Be it painting, writing stories, dancing, or acting—it's really all about discovery.

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