Journal

How many of you can sing?

I don't know where to start this one. So much of my life - the personal, professional and creative - is planned. And, there is nothing planned about whatever comes next. Five minutes ago, I was sitting up at WELD (where I recently moved my office) eating lunch and talking about cool internet stuff with my friend Austin. I went looking for an example that I've enjoyed to go along with our conversation, which landed me on pictorymag.com (the phenomenal site by my internet friend Laura Brunow Miner). Next thing I know lunch is nearly gone, clam sauce is all over my laptop and I'm typing these. very. words. because in between, I encountered this quote, thanks to this guy - Michael Foster Rothbart:

"When we younger out [sic] imaginations were limitless and unfettered by practicality and qualifications. Once when I visited my wife at the local elementary school where she teaches, I asked her class, "How many of you can draw?" The entire class raised their hands. Then I asked, "How many of you can sing?" Jubilantly the entire class raised their hands and they all began to sing different songs. It was a chaotic and wonderful sound.

When I am teaching, I ask my college-age students the same questions. In each class, sadly only a couple brave people raise their hands. You see, the students have added a self-imposing qualifier to the question. While I asked, "How many of you can sing?" they heard, "How many of you can sing well?" Picasso said it: all children are artists. The problem is to remain one when you grow up." - Chris Orwig, Visual Poetry

If I'd planned this, I probably wouldn't tell you that reading this made me cry. I don't know why. Well, maybe that's not honest. It could be that I connect with the tragedy of self-imposing qualifiers and my own reliance on them to avoid raising my hand and taking a leap. And, it could also be because of this photograph:

duder

That's my son, Brendan. He's almost 9 & on the day we shot this, he was being an absolute pill. Not much fun to be around & not at all interested in putting on a smile for a photograph. So, I asked him to sing for me. He launched into We Are Young, by Fun. He didn't hold back, nor did he hesitate. He sang his little heart out; it truly was "a chaotic and beautiful sound". And it absolutely changed everything that day. A moment later, he was laughing and back to his fun to be around ways.

The transformation was incredible.

Looking back on that day, in light of the Orwig quote, I can't help but wonder how much creative energy and life I have wasted by refusing to sing. It's hard, I've learned, for parents to remain humble and let their kids teach them things - but it's important, I think. And my son, that day, it seems had something to teach me. Creating something, anything, in the absence of self-judgement is transformative.

A week, or so, after taking this photograph, we were in Colorado. And on a horseback ride the guide asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer: "A singer." Creating something, anything in the absence of self-judgement is revelatory.

Much like encountering a great piece of art can change the way you see the world or awaken deeply repressed emotions, it seems the act of opening yourself up to being an artist can have a similar effect. Which begs the question, why don't I raise my hand more often?