Today I walk along the Russian River where I build and re-build myself. This is more than just water-flowing-between-banks, it is a workshop for my life and soul—a place where I am building the me-that-is-becoming.
I am thinking of the building of images, songs, relationships—life. We build many things. I have spent the last many years building a life. It is a good life, and it always has been a good life, but sometimes the work has been more difficult than other times. I build other things, too.
I build songs and photographs, they don’t just happen. I know there are many who refer to making a photograph as “taking” a picture or as “snapping some pics” or as “shooting” or “getting some shots.” I have seen people hold their cameras in one hand as if those cameras were teacups (shudder) and click the shutter, or whatever goes for a shutter, and then wondering why their photographs were blurry.
Making a good image takes intentionality, thought, training, care, awareness, and a subject that is worth being a subject. I think that this goes for most all things we deem worth looking at. It might go for more than that as well. I know it goes for making songs.
A good song, like a good image, must be constructed, built out of the materials at hand, and made into something worthy of our time to build it and worthy of someone else’s time and attention. Beyond a good strong subject, images need to have a simplicity about how lines, shapes, light and dark, positive and negative spaces, are placed within the confines of the image.
A strong song needs to have a strong statement (subject), one good idea that caries the listener, words and ideas that balance the flow of the music (prosody). A song just doesn’t just bubble out of a writer’s brain and into a recording, it get’s constructed, built into what it becomes.
Everything I have said above applies to the relationships we create. We fall in lust, we fall into romance, we fall into warm, fuzzy feelings, but relationships are built. Just because we get married doesn’t mean we have built a lasting relationship with another human being. Inseminating does not mean we are building any kind of a relationship with children or family.
Whether it’s a song, an image, a house, a family, love, or work, or an entire community, building is involved. When we build we move out of our own limited experience of self, and into experiences of others. I know that there are a lot of artists out there who will squawk at what I am saying, but let them squawk—art of any kind, to be vital, must reach outside of self and into the realm of the other. Songwriters write out of their own sense of self, but with a thought to their listeners. Artists, paint, photograph, sculpt, whittle, carve, fashion, out of their sense of personal creativity and invention, but, hopefully, with a viewing audience in mind.
I like the old story of the farmer, who when the preacher, seeing his lovely farm, stopped by and said, “What a beautiful farm this is that God gave you,” replied, “Well preacher, you should have seen what a mess it was when it was just God taking care of it.”