This Is One Of The Most Powerful Gifts Being An Artist Can Provide

This Is One Of The Most Powerful Gifts Being An Artist Can Provide

Being an artist means more than just creating the perfect image.

I had a nightmare last night. One of those long and involved nightmares where you forget that you’re sleeping and everything going on feels as though it is really happening. I won’t go too deep into the nightmare itself, lest I inspire all the armchair psychologists in the audience to start ruminating on deeper meanings. But, on a basic level, in the dream, I, along with several others, was being held hostage in a house in the hills. We had been cut off from the rest of the world with no way to call for help. And our captors had set our execution date for the following morning. The very real emotion running through my body as I had this nightmare was panic at trying to find a way to escape and frustration that I couldn’t find a way out of the dilemma. My mind alternated between feelings of resilience to survive and efforts to calm my nerves and accept my fate. I kept fighting until the end to try and develop an escape strategy. Until the last frame of the nightmare, where I looked out of the window and saw my mother outside the house through one-way glass. One of those tinted windows where I could see her, but she couldn’t see me inside. She had four young children with her for some reason I was never able to figure out. And she was trying to look in through the darkened glass. There was a guard on the front door. Could I trick him into allowing me to make myself visible enough for her to see me? I contemplated knocking on the window to try and get her attention. But would that just draw my captors' attention to her and put her in danger? Given the impending execution, did I have a choice? And, even if it was a decision that would decide my fate, might I prefer to be the one to perish rather than put her in harm's way?

It was right about then that, in the real world, my dog Archibald, apparently having a nightmare of his own, decided to jut out his leg and kick me in the lower back, waking me from my sleep. I woke up still filled with panic, quickly followed by immense relief that it all had just been a figment of my imagination. It took a while for me to steady myself, afraid to fall back asleep as I might be returned to the imaginary captivity. So, instead, I focused my thoughts on the flip side of the nightmare that had recently occupied my head. In real life, I was free. The only captivity I was forced to face was that of my own making. And that feeling of freedom led me down a far more positive rabbit hole in thinking about all the various blessings I have that I often take for granted. Specifically, those freedoms that are bolstered by my decision to become an artist.

While most reading this article today are likely not doing it from captivity, the same cannot be said for everyone. So, I am conscious of the fact that it is a privilege to be able to have the literal and metaphorical freedom to speak my mind. Through words, images, or motion, I can offer my unvarnished thoughts to the world without fear of persecution. Not everyone can say that.

Furthermore, what art has done is provided me with a method to share those thoughts. I’m not a particularly gregarious person. I’m essentially a hermit. I go out into the open and congregate with others because it’s a requirement of my job. But, by nature, I’m intensely introverted, and social interactions require a great deal of energy on my behalf. So, when I do have thoughts, I’m hardly the type that is going to run to the town square, stand up on a soapbox, and start yelling them out to whoever is within earshot. Even one on one, I’m not great at sharing my emotions. So that girl in the ninth grade that I had a huge crush on but was dating that much cooler guy from the in-crowd probably still doesn’t have any idea decades later that I even existed.

What being an artist does for me is that it allows me to funnel my thoughts and emotions into my art. I can express things through craft that I might otherwise keep inside. Even better, the more I share of myself in my art, the better my art becomes. So not only can it be an outlet, it needs to be an outlet in order for me to reach my artistic goals. This double motivation makes me a better artist, but it also allows me to live a more full life as a human being.

Becoming an artist has also provided me with a safer way to connect with other people. It’s scary for everyone to really open yourself up to others. Add to that, again, I’m an introvert. So, while I am perfectly capable of interacting with other people, it can be as draining to me as running a half marathon might be to other people. Yet, despite my own shortcomings, people fascinate me. As a photographer, I have little interest in art that doesn’t involve at least one face. As a filmmaker, I create character-driven stories. Less bombs exploding, more emotions exploding. So, I love to study people. To understand them. To champion them.

What being a filmmaker and photographer does for me is that it gives me a formal reason to connect with others. A safe place to nurture my fascination with others. I always say that, when else, other than when you have a camera in your hand, will a complete stranger let you stand six inches from their face and just stare at them? In most social situations, you would be asking for a punch in the face. But I get to do that multiple times a day as a photographer when I’m trying to understand the way the light is hitting their face or the best way to approach a shot. I get to ask personal questions to my actors that they might not answer for anyone else but are more than willing to respond to with me because it’s a necessary part of building a character. As a writer, I get to share my own deepest fears and emotions through those very characters. The stories may be fictionalized, but many of the themes within them are the same ones bouncing around my head that I would rarely share with even those who know me best.

Thankfully, I am not currently being held captive in a house, as my nightmare might have suggested. Instead, I am free. I am free to create. I am free to dream. I am free to express myself and share myself with the world. Art is my tool for freedom. It allows us to be our truest selves and to reflect the beauty of the world around us. I may have had a pretty bad nightmare last night. But to wake up at all and have a chance to create? That's a dream in any scenario.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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My camera and my glasses are like my blind for duck hunting,

We're very lucky! Sadly, not everybody has the freedom to speak their minds. Some can't even afford a camera.