I entered my freshmen year of high school with an unabashed love for language. I left wondering what the purpose of literature was- why was it that I found my final literature class dull, bland, pedestrian? Had I lost interest in that which I once loved? Had the wonder faded? Was there nothing new to read? Were those beautiful strings of words I found in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Kurt Vonnegut's Look at the Birdie no longer beautiful pieces of art because of the 18th century letters I had to read my senior year?
No. Art was still art. But the pieces in my senior literature class failed to awaken anything within me. Literature needs to enlighten me, shake my sense of reality, or force me to endure a slow, artistic story of an individual, whether it be through a broken, beautiful love or an insomniac's sleepless night. I search for passionate, innovative artists with something to say and new ways to say it. As Wordsworth would say-"[m]y heart leaps up" on these rare occasions when I stumble upon something that changes my perspective.
In the same way that literature needs to speak to me, art also needs to stir something within me.
My photography mentor always told me that my art shouldn't be just something pretty to look at, that's not truly art. Turning in pictures of flowers again and again; I was missing the point: It needs to evoke emotion. Maybe it needs to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, like a picture of a hamburger with gray meat that is sweating with grease in a dimly lit room. That makes me want to cringe. It might not be beautiful, but it is real, and not only is it real, but it evokes something out of the soul that is crucial to our existence.
Whatever emotion is brought to the surface, it is a reaction on which we need to focus. Why do I feel a certain way when I look at a particular picture? Why do I feel free when I see this photo? Why do I feel uncomfortable when I look at this one? It gives us insight into who we are as people. We're human, and art gives us a way to share our humanity with others. It can make us feel alive, connected, and understood, especially when we see something that innately and automatically makes sense to us.
Some things we just won't connect with, for example those pieces of literature I read my senior year, but I have to wonder why I don't connect with those articles. I have to explore myself to better create photographs, and perhaps expand my palate for those dense pieces of literature.
Art isn't just a pretty face or catchy tune. It's incredibly important to have beautiful things to enjoy, but true art will find something in you and awaken it for the first time, over and over again.