A Rose by Any Other Name

Earlier today, instead of spending another half hour extolling the virtues the SAT and the ACT, I engaged my “Advisory” students (most of them) in a simple, online adaptation of the Myers Briggs Personality Test. Then, because they caught sight of it on my computer screen, I let my Honors PreCalc students test themselves as well. It was interesting to see the way some people seemed to revel in having their personality described verbally. If the short description was deemed accurate enough, you could see a smile lighting up their face as it was being read.

I wonder what about this process of describing one’s personality is so rewarding for an individual, and I wonder if it has anything to do with our propensity to try and use words like professional, artist, author, or entrepreneur define ourselves and others. Ultimately, it might all boil down to a desire to be understood, to be known. Also, I suppose some titles have such a positive connotation that it’s difficult not to wish them upon ourselves.

In a roundabout fashion, I’ve gotten to the question that has been discussed at some length on other “photography blogs”…”Am I an artist?” I tend to come to different conclusions each time I ask this question of myself. It depends on what I’ve read lately, what I’ve photographed lately, and maybe even how my day of teaching has gone. Sometimes I think I don’t want to sell the creative work I’m doing short by calling it anything but art. Other times, I’m sure I haven’t put nearly enough thought or purpose into most of my photographs to consider myself an artist. In the end, there must be some kind of spectrum to which the term “artist” applies in varying degrees.

Summer Cave #2

Based on the comments I’ve read, most others would use a period of reflection like the one I’ve gone through to fuel their drive to be more of the artist they have the potential to be. Who knows what time will bring, but I’m currently taking the opposite approach. An artist seeks to put herself or himself into their creative work. While I see having my personality and values evident in my photography as a natural byproduct of my process, I don’t want it to be my goal. The whole world is filled with beauty that is not a product of my interpretation, and many other qualities besides beauty are among its adornments. A gentleness in the forest that goes unperceived by me is no less real than it would be if I had the opportunity to photograph that quality. The calm of certain hours on the Inside Passage is just as evident when I see it through my eyes as when I see it through the lens, and it can go on happening without me.

There are moments when this world is all it was meant to be, a wonderful reflection of the glory of its Creator. As a human being, I just want to see as much of that as I can, and I want to see it as often as I can, and I wan to fully appreciate it. As a photographer, I want to help others see the same glorious qualities (beautiful, peaceful, powerful) even if they can’t fly half way around the world to see the Mendenhall Ice Caves for themselves. I don’t want to let myself get in the way of others seeing what’s really there. I’m not saying I want to pretend photography can be a literal and purely faithful translation of the landscape, but I don’t want to hijack the viewer’s opportunity to respond to the subject of the photograph in their own way.

I don’t mind being labeled. I like to feel known and understood just as much as the next person. But I’m confident that I’m known and valued by the one that matters most. I don’t want to be an artist. I want to be a servant.