First Words — 30 October 2015
Eye of the iPhoner

I am artistically challenged.

My mom paints. So does my sister. It makes me happy to hear their happiness when someone admires one of their works of art, or even buys it. My mom and my sister are not artistically challenged.

The only thing I’ve ever painted is a garage. Someone might admire its “remarkable uniformity,” but no one would ever want to buy it. I worry I used the wrong kind of paint, too; so I’m probably going to have to re-paint it. (Who knew watercolor isn’t the right medium for garage wall?)

So I’m reading The New York Times, on a well-deserved break from re-painting, when I see a possible way out of my artistic challenges.

“The possibility for creative self-exploration is everywhere – especially in our phones,” Laura M. Holson writes in a Sunday Review essay, We’re all Artists Now. “It is easy now to record and edit images, audio and video on our cell phones, making the commoditization of creativity even more pronounced.”

And I wonder.

Artists have always used the technology of their day to create art. Fire-pit charcoal to smudge animal figures onto cave walls. Bitumen-coated plates to catch the earliest photographic images. Stones of lapis lazuli crushed to make the ultramarine blues of Vermeer.

Would Ansel Adams have lugged all that equipment into the Sierras if he could have just commoditized his creativity with an iPhone? Would Matisse have bothered with all that cutting if he’d had a 3-D printer? Would van Gogh’s story have ended more happily if he’d had a Facebook page filled with “Likes” for his self-portrait?

This is an issue full of art, and artists. Our connoisseurs weigh in on the best shows of the season, tune in to Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, and drop in on the curator of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival – even sample some of the culinary arts, before and after the shows.

They are all indisputably professionals. They are not artistically challenged.

But I wonder, are we all potentially artists now, as Holson suggests? With the possibility for creative self-exploration any time, everywhere?

In the elevator back at work, still a little discouraged by my challenges as a painter, I notice between floors that the ceiling is mirrored. In an iPhone flash – a 21st century self-portrait.

I wonder.


— Mark Gauert,

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