Recently, I was invited to participate in a “7-Day Art Challenge” and fill my Facebook timeline with art for seven days straight. The intent behind the challenge, it seemed to me, was to offer a counter-punch to the negativity — the divisive, hateful dialogue — we’re seeing emerge as a prevalent trend on social media. The ugliness of this trend has made me want to leave the neighborhood altogether. But for some reason, I haven’t yet.
Don’t get me wrong, people have a right to do their thing. Liberty (along with the Pursuit of Happiness) is an inalienable right... Right? And there have been times when I’ve taken to the rant, called people out for what I think they are and performed my own version of the character assassination. And what did it get me? Some people jumped on-board. I found some allies for my “cause.” It made me feel a little superior for a while. But in the end, that mostly one-way transaction left me feeling empty, wanting.
So, what can I do instead? What do I have to offer? What do I have to share that is meaningful, or worthwhile? A venue like Facebook, gives me center stage and allows me the freedom to say most anything I want for all my friends to see. And how have I used that freedom?
If I look closely at it, my activity on Facebook looks a lot like showing off. Keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. One-upping the competition. Broadcasting to my network how great my life is, how beautiful (and smart) my kids are, how amazing (and healthy) this meal, that I’m about to eat (right now, but when you see this it will be later), is going taste. Hey! Look at these breathtaking photos from my 4-star vacation, the wife and kids are all-smiles :). I’m “doing the things!” and aren’t you envious? Maybe a little?
I tell myself that these are the times we’re living in; that this is how we communicate nowadays. I tell myself that this is how my extended family keeps up with what’s happening in my busy life! But isn’t it really just a mirage — a cardboard cutout oasis of a cyber-life? A predominantly one-sided communication outward into an abyss of digital data.
And wouldn’t posting examples of my art be more of that same showing off? Maybe it seems boastful, to put my stuff out there in front of a “friendly” audience and bask in the glow of the generous compliments that come back as part of that exchange.
I’ve had mixed feelings about it. As I’ve created these daily posts, a persistent, internal voice has been prompting me to examine my motives. ‘Why are you doing this?’ It feels like shameless self-promotion. I feel somewhat embarrassed to do what feels like “tooting my own horn.” And before I've had time to consider these questions, I get pinged by my phone with another notification that someone has "Liked" one of my posts. And I succumb to the urge to check out how many “Likes” I have! And who has “Liked” vs. who has “Loved?”
The rabbit hole goes deeper. The internal voice probes further until, finally, I get to, 'Why do art at all?'
When I was younger, more or less as shy and self-conscious as I am today, I began to discover I had some talent. My drawings were yielding quite a bit of praise. This activity garnered recognition for me, including some modest high school fame, and it made me feel unique. I felt like I was a sort of magician, performing an illusory trick, that only a special few were capable of. So, of course, I kept doing it. And eventually, my talents, along with guidance from inspiring art teachers and mentors, landed me a scholarship to a prestigious art school.
But the early, shiny praise eventually eased. Perhaps I didn’t realize it at the time, but what was sustaining me was the simple truth that getting lost in a drawing or painting brought me great satisfaction. Yes, sometimes art was also an escape — a way in to another world that made any difficulties in my “real-life” disappear for a while. But I don’t think that’s why I kept doing it. What I kept coming back for (and still do today), was the thrill of pulling off the magic trick. I’ve certainly done lots of bad art. Always will. There are, however, fleeting moments when it feels free and effortless — sublime. And that’s why I keep coming back. It’s forever a delicate dance, teetering on a thin line between ecstasy and failure.
So the “7-Day Art Challenge” came calling and my first reaction was something along the lines of, "Tag! You’re it!" But then I looked at how others were participating and noticed the joy it brought me to see what my artist friends were posting… and I softened to the idea. I let down my cynical guard long enough to decide to participate.
Now, as I continue to fill my Facebook timeline with art for the “Challenge” — and wrestle with the silly delusions of my own self-importance — I’ve decided that maybe my motivations for participating / sharing / promoting my art aren’t what really matter at all.
I get to chase after the elusive muse. I get to notice the beauty in the mundane. I get to experience the pleasure of performing the “magic” of the illusionist. And hopefully, it goes deeper than that. Hopefully my pieces are honest expressions of how I see the world — celebrations of what inspires and moves me.
And why would I keep that to myself?
What if, by sharing, I can pass along something lovely to look at, or something that might bring delight to a person’s heart? What if, by sharing, I might bring a momentary reprieve to a person that is struggling? What if, by sharing, I’m giving to this world, rather than taking what I think is mine? What if, by sharing, I’m actually perpetuating love instead of hate?
If any of these things are even partially true, then I’m all in.