These days I make my living as an Artist and Teacher, which is strange given that all my training has been in science culminating in a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. It was during that time as a doctoral student that I became enamored with photography. I have always loved the outdoors, and quickly discovered the natural and wild areas of the San Francisco Bay Area when I arrived. My jaunts into the Santa Cruz Mountains were very threraputic in combating the stress associated with graduate study and work. One day though I picked up a camera out of the necessity to defend my good word against claims that I could not have possibly seen the new crescent moon when it first becomes visible. The camera was at first a scientific tool that I used to record natural phenomena, much like any other scientific instrument used in an experiment. However what happened after that was pivotal in my life.
The light was transforming. It was alive and changed its mood constantly and it brought me along for the ride with it.
I don’t have many photos from those early days any more but the above sunset was one that was hard to just toss away. It had a quality of light that was just mesmerizing. Light became my drug and I needed to chase after it often and capture it for my own edification. For six years as a graduate student I pursued the light. Capturing it as often as I could, wherever I happened to be. I was an observer, I was a learner, I was a scientist with a tool in my hand that captured light. Nearing the end of graduate school I met my future wife, who was an Artist and taught art at a local private elementary school. It was exciting being around her when she worked. She put her soul into her paintings and it came through in her work, it was her. In six years of trying to share the excitement I found while out photographing the landscape, no one I knew shared my excitement until I met her. She actually pushed me to achieve better results and was genuinely interested in the light I was capturing.
Fast forward to a time after graduate shcool, we are married now and things are different. My photos were now obstacles that my wife needed out of the way. Thousands of them, stored in boxes, were in her way as she moved through the house. She brought an ultimatum – “toss out all these boxes collecting dust or do some thing with them”! And that was the pivot that changed me from being a scientist concerned with observation into a artist concerned with expression. For nearly eight years I had been in observation mode internalizing the natural world. Capturing moments in time that caused my heart to flutter or that stole my breath away. For eight years Mother Earth was the balm of my aching soul. Now it was time to express to others what was arguably overflowing in my heart.
I have read many definitions of art. None seem to hit the very core of what art is or what an artist does. To me an artist is someone who expresses to others what is contained in his or her heart and art is that expression. It can be beautiful or ugly, joyous or sad, and constantly changing. By default the artist is a scientist because simply put a scientist is some one very skilled at observation. The scientist internalizes observations and formulates theories based on those observations. For the most part the scientist’s job stops there. The artist on the other hand is also a skilled observer and internalizes experiences as well. However the artist is also a skilled communicator and expresses what he or she has internalized through some medium, be it visual or otherwise. And while formal science is fairly young in the scope of time, the skills of observation and expression used by an artist is as old as humanity itself.
Humans have been expressing their experiences through some moving means for a very long time. Whether it is through pictures on a wall, or through the words of a story teller or author, or through rhythm and tones, the artist relates what is in his or her heart to others in moving ways. In some respects art is what completes us as human beings. It brings us together peacefully. It lightens our circumstances and allows us to escape, even if for only a short while, the rigors of life itself. It allows us to relate with our feelings and emotions – it makes us human.
In the world of today, where terror, oppression, tyranny, injustice, and greed dominate the public sphere it is even more important that we double, or even triple our efforts to include art in our lives. I am afraid for the generations that follow me that are devoid of art. How cold and lacking of compassion will they be? Disconnected from their emotions like soulless robots running on automatic or worse yet with the intent on set to kill! Art is not taught in schools anymore due to budget cuts. It is seen as extracurricular and placed on the wayside. If a young student has a special talent for expression it is not fostered in a meaningful way such that he or she might make an honest living at it. It is truly a sad state of affairs.
In times of financial turmoil it is art that gets amputated and left to rot first – it being seen as not necessary in life. However it is through art that we find respite from the worries and anxiety that comes from tribulations in life. Is it any wonder that hospitals and medical clinics are chock full of art on the walls? Illness brings our mortality center stage and nothing is more stressful and un-nerving than that. And yet through the art on those walls, a climate of peace and serenity can pervade the heart. Look at any piece of art you have in your own home, and observe how it makes you feel. No, art is not only crucial now more than ever before – it is Necessary.