Note: The first good thing I wrote on NS was a rambling take on why I wasn't a photographer almost three years ago. Now, thanks in part to that article I eat ramen in the ski industry, and thanks to a lot of you I draw and sell pictures of skiers and mountains. So here's my attempt at explaining the doodling.
The subject line was simple, one word “Are.” The body of the email was simple too, just four words, laid out like some sort of minimalist poem:
My dad’s a poet but I’m not sure if his email was meant to be a poem, or if that’s just how it came out. My grandpa used to do the same thing, dropping seemingly random line breaks into his emails to emphasize things that sometimes only he really understood.
Even if it wasn’t meant to be a poem that email worked like one. It dug to the root of the issue and asked the question better than simple prose would have. And, when you pose the question like that it’s clear that it’s not the sort of thing you answer quickly. It’s a question meant to start a conversation, not just to find an answer to.
Of course there’s the easy, pseudo-deep answer, the answer a million self-centered pretentious poets have used before: “I view my life as a work of art and strive to live like that every day” and of course, that’s mostly true. If you see this whole life thing as a painting then you might as well try to make it a good one. But that wasn’t the question, it wasn’t just “Are you an artist?” and that “becoming” is rather important.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that I ought to be busy behind a computer rendering CAD drawings of skis, not splattering paints around on them. After all, I was on track to be a Mechanical Engineer, filling the graph paper my math major mom made me love with doodles of far off mountains and overweight bums eating McDonalds.
But I didn’t swap my major to art, instead I started slinging words and cameras around, telling myself I was a storyteller and a journalist, heck, that’s what it says on my business card. And I am. That’s what’s putting the ramen in my bowl after all. The problem came when the stuff I drew started paying for the hot dogs in that ramen.
Sure, people will say that taking photos is art, and it is, but I think making pies is art too, along with drywalling, and building bike trails, and I knew that wasn’t what my dad was asking. See, I’ve been having this argument for a while, throughout highschool I kept throwing lines on paper, but I wasn’t trying to make art. I had friends who were real artists, who made things that were real art. I made things that amused my brothers and annoyed my teachers, and then when a weak winter meant that I hit a slow point shooting skiing, I started drawing the shots I wasn’t taking.
Artist statements talk about portraying the beauty of order in chaos, or nature’s resilience to development and stuff like that. I just wanted to take a picture of a dude doing a rodeo 540 off a rock that sort of looked like an old man’s face in front of a sunset, and I didn’t have the skier, the sunset, or the vaguely humanoid rock in my apartment. So I puked it out onto some leftover watercolor paper from my one high school art class and figured out how to color it with my mouse on the computer. I thought I was pretty hot stuff. After all I’d had to watch like six youtube videos to figure out the process.
I took watercolor supplies to Mt. Hood where I camped for a few weeks. I would go sit and look at the mountain and try to make capital “A” Art early in the morning. It didn’t work. I wasn’t making Art, I was just drawing stuff that I could have taken a better picture of, so I went and tried to ski rails instead, with similarly terrible results.
Then I dropped a friend’s photo into a raven’s outline, something that carried meaning for them. Another friend saw it and wanted a scene in a goat and suddenly I had it figured out. I wasn’t really any good at drawing stuff, but if you put a scene of something people wish they were doing inside an animal they seem to like it.
Books told me art is supposed to have no formula, no rules, but I wasn’t an artist, I was just dropping doodles of people doing stuff in the mountains inside of mountainy animals. Boom, recipe, just add two cups of #campvibes and let cool for an hour.
And I hid there, doodling, trying to make stuff people saw as art without being an artist. Because artists are supposed to be the sort of people who ooze emotional diarrhea and have clean fingernails and don’t really climb mountains or crash trying to do backflips with their shirts off or eat Snickers bars while wandering around in the woods. The torture is supposed to be emotional, not physical.
It worked too in a way. I could go to an art gallery, get incredibly excited and then come home and spew something that was simply a picture I wished I had taken or some mountains I wished I had climbed. The only problem was that I showed those doodles to people on the internet, and just like a good pie or a mountain bike trail that flows right, it’s not art until someone’s experiencing it.
Apparently people were experiencing it enough to steal it and call it their own at least. And while that was flattering, the friends that wanted doodles that had fallen out of my pen on their shirts or stickers were much more convincing. Maybe that’s the point of real art, maybe it gives the viewer a story that they know is true.
But I still didn’t want to be that. I was throwing #art all over the place because I knew it would get me more followers, hopefully the kind of people who would buy enough of my doodles that I could maybe afford to put hot dogs and an egg in my ramen, but I just wanted to keep drawing stuff that I wished I was doing.
However, as I avoided becoming an artist I found more and more real artists who were doing the stuff I wanted to be doing, climbing the mountains I was climbing, skiing the lines I wanted to be skiing and making art that was so good I couldn’t help pulling out my sketchbook after seeing it. Of course I should have known you don’t have to be a basement dwelling pansy to be an artist. After all, the first artist I knew was my dad and he’s the sort of guy you’d want on the other end of your rope, or beside you in a sketchy alley.
But that's sort of the key, the people who should be telling stories are the ones living them. I used to keep my tall tales to myself until I posted a few on this site and you guys helped me realize they were worth telling. Now I guess the same thing has happened to my doodles thanks to people I met on this website bullying me into sharing them. And I'm just a kid from Northern Idaho's rolling wheat fields who can't slide a rail to save his life.
You guys have stories, you're living them, and if our education system hasn't totally failed you, you have the means to tell them. I don't care if that means sitting down at a keyboard, or picking up a camera, or waving a pencil around, stop just consuming and start contributing. Why? Because three years ago a few people told the skinny kid who skied in Carhartts to do exactly that, and I rather like the trajectory my story took because of them.
So yes Pop, I guess I’m becoming an artist. Art’s supposed to tell a story, and I can’t help blabbing. I’d honestly prefer to be baking pies (I really like pies) but I can’t help letting my pen wander. I’ll try to make some real art, not just #art and I’ll keep throwing mountain doodles at instagram, and hope they keep putting hot dogs in my ramen, because man, I really like hot dogs too.