Commentary, Philosophies

Beauty as Necessity

I am not running for Congress, that much is clear. I’d like to begin with this statement because the following piece is going to seem like a pretty bald-faced “art in schools” speech. I’m not protecting the glee club, I’m not pushing for bigger arts budgets, and I’m not campaigning for mandatory music and art education.

Then again, maybe I am.

I’ll let you figure it out. Over the past several months my already kindling interest in graphic design, art, music, and photography has grown exponentially. I’ve found websites to stoke the flames, engaged in conversations with friends that cultivated my young ideals regarding the topic, I’ve even entered the creative “conversation” myself with my music and writing. The result has been difficult to ignore: either by accident or as a consequence, my demeanor has calmed, my relationships with others have grown more profound, and my appreciation of the little things in life has grown. In short, I’m discovering the fourth human necessity.

My interest began with a graphic designer and musician by the name of Scott Hansen. His blog, ISO50, featured unconventional art and photography, regular music posts, case studies of design in consumer products and publications, and a consistent and inspiring thread of fulfillment. Scott Hansen doesn’t just observe art, it is an extension of him.

For this young artist, his moniker, “Tycho” and the art that stems there-from, are as much a part of him as his right hand. The beauty he perceives in the world is as much a confirmation of his character as it is a satisfaction of his tastes. When he looks at a sunset, treated in a vintage filter and blurred to a dreamy state, this is how he views the world; that same calm that he experiences becomes him.

Art has a tendency to do this to people. Like Cameron in the Chicago History Museum, works of creativity have a way of staring into us, picking out a trait within us that we may be afraid to confront, proud to promote, or unaware of entirely. This knowledge of ourselves grows and makes us more confident, stretching into our engagements with others, manifesting as compassion, connection, and wisdom.

And when we see these displays in gaudy frames in an art museum, we begin to see their fingerprints everywhere. An especially beautiful picture of a sunset in Maui causes us to see our sunsets for their colors and meaning. A song about a subway station causes us to hear the sounds of the train tracks and ramblings of doomsday preachers in a different way. Our life becomes fuller, more meaningful, acting like a foley artist in a film, which brings to the forefront all of the things we would otherwise ignore.

I am more a believer now that I have ever been that the fourth human necessity, aside from water, food, and oxygen is beauty. The significance of our existence, our relationships, and our actions knows only chemical bonds and the passage of time without the inherent quality of beauty. Looked at subjectively, we are slaves to perception. Looked at objectively, we are little more than molecules. But looked at in conjunction, both through the lens of the human eye and within the rules of our physical world, ideas and transactions become meaningful, giving us purpose and peace.

Say what you will about Chinese math scores and the brain drain of the US economy. Without purpose, our calculations have no meaning. Beauty is as essential to our existence as the flesh of our bodies and, regardless of your artistic talent, you too are capable of both creating it and appreciating it in a way that will change the course of your life, right this very moment.

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The world is kind to those who don't "give a fuck".
Habits, Philosophies

Be Yo’ Self

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C. S. Lewis

I’ve quoted this before. It’s re-emphasis is not without purpose. You see, I’ve known many incredible people in my lifetime, and what continues to strike me is the frequency with which they insist that they were, at one point, “too embarrassed” to look silly.

It’s a poignant remark in my eyes because (and this is not bragging), the idea of looking silly is one that has not entered my mind in probably a decade. The concept that anyone would be embarassed by who they are, afraid to express their thoughts or personality is mind-boggling. We are who we are in the same way that a pear is a pear or a tree is a tree, nothing can change that.

So truly what requires more effort? Being yourself in the face of possible ridicule, or maintaining an unnecessary and futile facade? How much energy are you wasting a day being someone else when you could be the beautiful, powerful you?

Think about it.

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What do you think? Are you You or are you trying to be Someone Else? Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary, Philosophies

We Can Build It, We Have the Technology

I’m a self-help and productivity junkie; on that there is no argument. I’ll try any to-do list app, download calendar programs that make me breakfast, and use flashcards to memorize my strengths and weaknesses. During my perusing I came across two very interesting ideas: 1. Dreaming is usesless without doing and 2. social media is not a gathering, but a stage. The former is easy an extremely important idea, the latter a paradigm shift in the way we “act” in our lives, and the implication is a simple question: what are we really doing with our lives because of these truths?

The aforementioned calendar applications I have their uses, but the reality is that, until recently, I had been living my life for productivity. The flaw with this method, of course, is that productivity and creativity are not the end goals in themselves; they are the vehicles for greater action. For example, my unflappable determination to find the best to-do list has been long-developing and had, in its own rite, turned into a hobby of sorts. I would sift through the app store, mentally crossing off all the solutions I had tried and discarded. Once I finally found the holy grail (Any.DO, I highly recommend it), my immediate response was to go back to the app store and see if anything was better! Really? I had to ask myself “what am I really trying to accomplish here?” and, since answering that question, I have since been happier, more productive, and less broke on 99 cent apps.

Part of my new, more productive lifestyle was the utilization of news reader services, which led me to another truth that impacted my life significantly. Sifting through the news feeds of my favorite websites, I stumbled upon (using reddit, ironically) an article pointing to research that suggests that, though our methods of communication are more numerous/ubiquitous, our actual number of friends and meaningful activities had greatly declined (by as much as 40-50% in most cases). The research concluded that social networking of all kinds are not really a substitute for our in person interactions, but instead a platform upon which we may express ourselves in the presence of others. The principle makes sense: what requires a greater and, hence, more meaningful expenditure of personal resources? “Liking” a comment or going to have coffee with someone?

So I considered it and I came to a pretty confounding question: if tools facilitate action, and action dictates substance, why aren’t we using our tools to their fullest potential? Think about it: we can instantly exchange messages with friends, why not message them that their favorite band is playing right now? If we can post links on each others’ walls, why don’t we post the website of a restaurant we could go to? Extend the principle past social networking: if we can access the Library of fucking Congress, why can’t political junkies get their American history straight? I would never disparage pictures of cats (because I love them), but if we can instantly chat with someone of another nationality instantly, why aren’t we using the tool to become fluent in a new language?

Are we really using our tools to their fullest potential? Furthermore, are we really exercising ourselves to the fullest potential? I believe that we are not disinterested, but distracted; lost amongst the constant stimulation and too burdened by light-hearted entertainment to confront the real questions in our lives. Unable or unmotivated to learn and grow our intellectual garden, why not invest in and utilize the proper tools?

It’s really not a question of why but when. We have the tools, we have the information, and dreaming about our favorite endeavors is as useless as throwing coins in a fountain without the action to make them a reality. So consider, while you watch 300 and consider how bad ass Leonidas looks, why not work out? When you watch a cooking show and think “boy that looks good…” why not learn how to cook it? The world now more than ever is oversaturated with potential energy, the question is, when will you get up and start moving?

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What do you think? Are you ready to get started? Have you already started? Join the conversation on the Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Commentary, Philosophies

Express Yo Self

Narcissistic, nihilistic, controversial and crass; a cacophany of cute, quaint, clothing choices and hollow creeds. It’s a fucking disgrace and it’s never been more possible, more enjoyable, or more engrossing than it is today: self-expression. Some abandon form to define their shape while others stick rigidly to the suit and tie in order to inculcate in themselves a sense of worth and in others a sense of attraction. It’s a disgusting display of self-pride, rejection of one cult for another, and construction of our consciousness that has never been more necessary in the era of niche chic.

Consider, for example, my recent trip to the the local mega-mall, as expositionally opportunistic as it is argumentatively convenient. Since re-opening my til-then-long-dormant quest to put together my “dream wardrobe”, I’ve come upon a til-now-undiscovered dimension of my own human experience: taste. I find it in all things: the liquor I drink, the music I ingest, the clothes I wear, and even the television shows I watch.

While all of these make for convenient Facebook likes, the dimension to which I enjoyed these many endeavors/activities/materials was, over time, tinged with the visual wash of my favorite photographers, appearing to the untrained eye to be as much an extension of myself as the sounds I hear and the foods I taste. In short, each was a conversation; a back and forth between my social consciousness, my disposition, my hopes and fears, and the invested intentions of the creating artists.

The vulgarity of my taste is not hidden. When I pull a jacket off the rack and try it on, I’m thinking exclusively about how good I look. Not the starving children in Africa, not the poor shivering coats I overlooked to make my selection, but myself. My actions, thanks to social media (the purist’s four-letter word) and our American culture’s incredible capacity for self-obsession (of which I am not known to mock/abstain from), are a giant fucking gaudy, neon-lighted monument to me and all the me’s that I love.

And the self-love is not entirely public either. Even sitting here listening to Lotus Plaza’s (no, you’ve never heard of them) album, recommended from a website that thrives on elitism, I get the warm-fuzzy-glowy feeling I can only imagine Mormons get when they chastise someone for not wearing the right underwear to the wrong church.

But before I (or honestly, anyone I know) head to the bathroom to wash the sticky nectar of self-indulgence off my hands and keyboard, I must plead that my personal hero-worship is not without external cause. When Lana Del Rey can make a living off of one song and en vogue hipster mystique while I slave away over a hot keyboard trying to convince myself without financial validation that my work is any better, the human ego can’t help but go on the defensive. We need ourselves to like ourselves, otherwise what makes our flying spaghetti monster any less fictitious than anyone else’s?

And in my expertly cultivated and totally unique/cool/desirable opinion, that is exactly why neon bras and three-wolf moon shirts make ego masturbation just as healthy as real masturbation. If you don’t know what you like and you can’t communicate it to others, then how can you approach that part of your life with any confidence? Furthermore, how can you approach that part of anyone else’s life with any confidence? In a world of fragmented niches, globalized reputations, diminishing fishes in ever-largening ponds, it has simply never been more essential to know who you are and accept the same of others.

I recently received a shirt for Christmas from a UK graphic design group called Ugmonk that was featured in the premier web-based men’s magazine Uncrate. To say I felt like the 1990’s middle-schooler with the shiniest Pog slammer would be an outright lie. But beyond confirming what I already knew about my bad self, it was the validation that my taste was dictated, not by others, but by my own sensibilities and identity and these sensibilities extend, now more than ever, into every aspect of my life.

Catharsis, thou comest in a medium.

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