01 November 2010

Singular Vision

Gunfighter_1958 You have a thought, a feeling or an outrage, and it occurs to you to write it down, make a video or draw a picture that expresses it. But then you think there are millions of others out there thinking the same thing, many with greater communication or artistic skills than you have. So, you end up not writing it, not drawing it, and your vision is never captured or recorded. Mass culture has convinced you that your point of view is inconsequential. This is a loss.

Expressing and recording your personal history is vitally important in its own right. It needs no further justification or rationalization. It has intrinsic value. Because of our awareness of the sheer multitude of humanity, we tend to assume that there must be a million other people with the same thoughts and impressions that we have, and hence, our impressions are insignificant. There is really no logical basis for this assumption. The opposite may actually be true: that for at least a moment in time, our personal vision may be singular, and vitally important.

It isn’t exactly front page news, but the mainstream mass media is a polluted source of information. By “mainstream mass media” I mean the whole complex: television, motion pictures, newspapers, the recording industry and commercial publishers. They share a common fatal flaw in that they live on advertising and are accountable to business interests whose first priority is to turn a profit. Do you think that Rupert Murdoch built News Corp. in order to provide us with a deeper and more accurate description of the human condition? Does CNN care what’s going through your mind as you sit in your kitchen trying to decide what to eat for supper? Probably not. If the record of the mainstream mass media is all that future generations have of us, they will neither know nor understand who we are.

One might not care about what future generations understand – I happen to care, but not everyone does – but most of us do care, at some level, about understanding ourselves and being understood. If you make a habit of capturing your experiences, you will collect in time a picture of your life. The medium doesn’t matter very much. It can be pictures, words, sounds or objects. You can come back to it periodically and you will see different things in it, often things of which you were unaware at the time you snapped the picture or made the journal entry. Especially through the lens of time, greater understanding can come. I often have the experience of finding things in my journals and photo albums that point out something very clearly to me now, and I marvel at how blind I was to it at the time.

Syd_Memphis_1984 Sometimes, working on a creative piece can bring out something that I’m struggling with and help me to become aware of it. Prior to the creative work, there is just the feeling. The process of recording it to paper, film or megabytes often helps me to identify an experience I’m having. It may even help in a therapeutic way and allow me to make peace with something that is eating at me.

Mostly, I do this stuff because I love doing it. I love the activity of creating pictures and writing. I would do it for that reason alone and be completely content. Most of the time, I’m not doing self-therapy or creating a record of historical significance. Most of the time, I’m just having fun. Nevertheless, I believe that the personal history angle is important.

I have lived long enough to experience how lives and ideas get left behind as culture rushes rapidly forward. I have lived long enough to forget interesting episodes in my own life and I’m glad I jotted down a journal entry which provides a touchstone to the memory. Sometimes, just a few lines or a photo is enough to return a wonderful moment to memory. I have a strong sense that much has been lost and swept aside, even in my own time which to me doesn’t seem that long. Whole lives that were once important to their families and communities are now little more than records at the court house. Ways of living and thinking, some of which still have great value, are left by the side of the road in the inevitable march of days. Creating personal history hedges against this loss. It doesn’t prevent it, but it saves something.

As the artist and the subject, you can’t judge what’s important or what isn’t. You have to leave that to others. Do you think that Beethoven could have told you that the 5th and 9th symphonies were going to be really important and the 6th and 7th weren’t going to be? No, he was just Beethoven doing his Beethoven thing. I have long suspected that the Apostle Paul had no inkling that his letters were going to become half of the New Testament. We can’t know the value or even the whole content of the things we do. We shouldn’t even try. But most of all, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be hypnotized into thinking that everyone else is thinking our thoughts, and that our own experience is of no consequence.

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