Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In the eye of the beholder

I've been thinking alot about a quote from a Madeleine L'Engle book I've been reading:

"The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. Therefore, the act of creating--painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story--is a humble act? This was a new thought to me. Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else."
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet

I've noticed that I'm self-conscious about many things. My photography is one of them. I have entered's photo contest every month since October. I've lost every time. I know, I know, I didn't really *lose*, I just didn't win. Whatever.

I've decided to still enter, but to not base how I feel about myself on whether I win or not. I keep telling myself that art is subjective. There is no wrong or right. And to be honest, most of the time the photos that win the contests aren't my favorites.

Madeleine L'Engle talks about placing your value in someone else's hands in A Circle of Quiet

But what about that self-image?

We talked, this July in Columbus, about how you can be walking down the street and you will catch a glimpse of yourself reflected in a store window and think: who is that? Oh, no, it's not!

But it is.

We really don't know what we look like. We are moderately careful to spend a certain amount of time in front of the mirror; we choose the mirror before which we comb our hair, shave, or put on lipstick or eyeshadow, with a good deal of attention. We don't use a distorted mirror, or ones like those in the fun houses at fairs and carnivals. The bathroom mirror tells us a certain amount about our outside selves.

But the inner, essential self?

I don't know what I'm like. I get glimpses of myself in other people's eyes. I try to be careful whom I use as a mirror: my husband; my children; my mother; the friends of my right hand. If I do something which disappoints them I can easily read it in their response. They mirror their pleasure or approval, too.

But we aren't always careful of our mirrors. I'm not. I made the mistake of thinking that I "ought" not to write because I wasn't making money, and therefore in the eyes of many people around me I had no business to spend hours every day at the typewriter. I felt a failure not only because my books weren't being published but because I couldn't emulate our neighoring New England housewives. I was looking in the wrong mirrors. I still do, and far too often. I catch myself at it, but usually afterwards. If I have not consciously thought, "What will the neighbors think?" I've acted as though I had.

I've looked for an image in someone else's mirror, and so have avoided seeing myself.

I've decided that for this photo contest (yes, I'm going to enter again!) I'm going to look to it as a fun, learning experience. I'm going to take their topic (Awakening) and take pics of whatever "awakening" means to me. I will pick my favorite of the day and post it here on the blog, and on March 15th, without fear or anguish, I will pick my favorite of all of them.

I love all of your opinions, don't get me wrong! And I will probably ask your opinions again, because it helps me to grow when I see things from your eyes. But for the past contests, I've tried to think what will be the judges' favorite of my pics, then I get disappointed when I don't even get an honorable mention. So silly!

(Especially when I have a different opinion of "best"! Who would be the winner in an art contest between Michelangelo, de Vinci, Monet, and Renoir? Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.)

On Madeleine L'Engles' fortieth birthday she got yet another rejection notice.

This seemed an obvious sign from heaven. I should stop trying to write. All during the decade of my thirties (the world's fifties) I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn't like a good New England housewife and mother. When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn't make a decent pie crust. I always managed to get something red in with the white laundry in the washing machine, so that everybody wore streaky pink underwear. And with all of the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.

So the rejection on the fortieth birthday seemed an unmistakable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make a cherry pie.

I covered the typewriter in a great gesture of renunciation. Then I walked around and around the room, bawling my head off. I was totally, unutterably miserable.

Suddenly I stopped, because I realized what my subconscious mind was doing while I was sobbing: my subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.

I uncovered the typewriter. In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that's what it was. I had to write. I had no choice in the matter. It was not up to me to say I would stop, because I could not. It didn't matter how small or inadequate my talent. If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing."

I'm not saying that I am the Madeleine L'Engle of Photography. I am just me. And I love beauty. And I love to be a part of beauty. So for now, I photograph.

And here is my Sign of Spring for the day:

May you and I always be true to ourselves!


  1. Beautiful post. I enjoyed reading about Madeleine L'Engles' and your thoughts. Keep taking pictures and staying true to you!

    God's Shining Stars
    Creative and Curious Kids!

  2. Art is very subjective. I've seen the winners of many photo contests and often times I don't like them at all.

  3. So often people get the idea in their head that something has no value unless and until it's been graded. (with money, given stars by someone with authority, or even given a nod or opinion by someone else.) It drives me crazy! I will never understand why people don't think Joy has any worth.

  4. Lovely post! I agree with Christy, art is subjective.

    The photos you take are ALL beautiful. Beautiful in the general sense that we, your readers, get to see, but also beautiful because each photo captured your heart for a moment...just enough that you'd take a picture. So actually, all of them are pieces of you. And unfortunately, the judges in art contests can only see the photo, not what was in the heart of the photographer. So hard to choose winners of contests...

    I know I love seeing your photos, and I'm glad you are going to continue to post them and enter the contests. Someday you might "win," but if not you've won anyway. :)