Introducing Viewfinder by StartPhoto, an email newsletter about art making, photography, and reigniting creativity.
Viewfinder Vol 1, Issue 1 – See all issues – Subscribe to Viewfinder
Hi, I’m Ron ‘RonJohn’ Johnson, the creator of StartPhoto. I’m writing this newsletter/blog/podcast (whatever it ends up being) for you. And to be honest, I’m making it for myself, too, because I have needed, at one point or another, all the things I plan to share with you.
I’m still figuring out Viewfinder as I go. To use a phrase that comes up a lot in my life, “I’m flying the plane while still building it”. Viewfinder might end up being highly personal, but hopefully not so much so that it’s off-putting. Ideally, it’ll be interesting. And entertaining. Most importantly, I hope you’ll find it useful. Regardless, as we figure out the shape of this thing, I’m intentionally leaving space for you as we go–we’ll discover together where this ends up.
I work in software product management. I’ve had an interesting career; sometimes intellectually engaging, often challenging, occasionally fulfilling. It’s a hard job to do well. Maybe, like me, you’re a professional, maybe in technology in some way. Or you’re a lawyer or an accountant or any of the myriad of other varieties of “information worker”. Or maybe you work mostly with your hands, or your heart, putting your experience and skill and empathy to work to solve problems.
Regardless of the field you work in or job title you have… maybe you, like me… feel the void.
You know there’s something missing in your life. Perhaps you figured it out already, or are just now grappling to identify it, but you know there’s a hole and it’s something you need to fill. It’s not a life-and-death situation, but it bothersome. There’s a gap. You don’t feel fulfilled. It’s blocking your sense of completeness.
Let’s try to put a name to that thing that’s missing.
It’s not exactly the right word, because there are numerous ways to be creative in your life, and the thing I’m talking about… is not all of them. In fact, many people who are ostensibly “creative” in their profession–maybe they work as a designer or writer or musician–still have that nagging sensation that something’s missing. But “creativity” as a word is not wholly wrong either, because at its core, that missing thing is all about creation. “Creativity” by definition is the use of creative ideas, the active word here being “use”. And action is definitely part of it.
OK, how about “art”?
This is closer, but the word comes loaded with baggage in western cultures. “Art” can be seen as self-indulgent, a waste of time, superficial, or reserved for certain people or places. It’s hard to call yourself an artist today. “You’re an artist? Get a real job.” “You must come from privilege.” “Art is for the rich.” “Nobody cares about art.” Or even the reverse: “Everyone calls themselves an artist these days.”
It’s probably always been hard, but now especially so, to call oneself an artist. “Content creator” (a term that I loathe) is more acceptable, because it implies ‘creation for commerce’. You create to get attention, build a brand, make a dollar. A focus on making money is seen as virtuous.
Or maybe you’re an artist in the sense that your goal is to make things that appeal to people, with the goal of them giving you money for them. Craft… back to the ‘commerce’ thing again. In the bad old days, we used to differentiate between “commercial artists” and “fine artists” but it’s all pretty much the same now (it’s all commercial). Art making, like so many things, has become commerce. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Let’s try another one: “expression”.
Like “art”, this one is loaded too, also full of associations with self-indulgence and squishy “feelings” and navel-gazing. But it’s actually the closest word to the thing I’m trying to describe, the missing thing, the void. Expression is a fundamental part of being human, a defining characteristic.
Expression isn’t necessarily about making your deepest, darkest, most personal feelings manifest. Expression is action, and that action can take any form and have any message, or none at all. We’ll dig DEEP into this later on and disperse with any negativity about “expression”, focusing on the idea of expression as, “making art, the action of creating”.
No matter the word we choose to describe the missing thing, the point is that humans are expression machines and it’s in our nature to create and to tell stories about what we think, feel, or imagine. If we don’t do this, we feel the void.
You have a fundamental need and right to expression. Without external validation, or justification. You do not need a reason or permission. We are homo narrans, “storytelling humans” after all; we’ve been expressing ourselves for at least 60,000 years. It’s no wonder that you have a need to create and feel something is missing when you don’t.
So… where do we go from here? We fill the void.
Nurturing a creative life
I’m here to share my experiences of how I’ve learned to (and am still learning to) fill that void and live a more creative life. A commitment to making art, for yourself–that’s what this is all about. I’ve learned to give myself permission to create with no purpose other than the act of doing so.
In Viewfinder, I’ll share things I’ve done and related activities for you, if you’re interested. I’ll include thoughts, tips, philosophies about art making, and how to live a more creative, fulfilled life.
A bit about me
I’ve been making art for more than 25 years, though I haven’t always called myself an artist. I work in a variety of mediums including (and especially) photography, 2D/3D constructions, collage, drawing (occasionally), painting (poorly), and what’s sometimes dismissively called “digital art”. I have a BFA in Interdisciplinary Art from the San Francisco Art Institute and am particularly interested in experimental, “alternative”, and other non-traditional and/or non-mainstream art making practices.
👉 Learn a bit more about me on the Editor page.
Speaking of “practice”, I’m going to kick this whatever-it-ends-up-being thing off with a series about establishing, or reestablishing, your art making practice. I fully embrace the word “practice” in both the ‘practice makes perfect’ sense (“performing an activity repeatedly in order to improve it”) and the ‘doctor practicing medicine’ sense (e.g. “actively pursue a particular profession or occupation”). This word is meaningful because it doesn’t imply perfection but it does indicate regular activity and engagement… which is the whole point.
Until next time, here’s to filling the void.