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When I Was Almost An Artist

For most of my early years, I thought I would be an artist when I grew up. Beginning when I was in middle school, I practiced drawing every day and spent more time doodling in my school notebooks than I did writing down what I was supposed to be learning in class. In sixth grade, I dabbled in film photography... and hated it. A year later, I moved into watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings and spent the next five years working on building a portfolio for college admissions. My friends knew art was my passion. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum (as it were), when partway through my senior year, I changed my mind about what I'd be doing for the rest of my life.

The reasons for my change in career plans were more from a practical perspective than a poetic one. I loved math and science as much as art, and preferred a life of stability over one of uncertainty - so I went to Syracuse University to study engineering instead of art. To be honest, I don't recall this being a particularly hard decision at the time, but I often wonder how things would have turned out if I hadn't taken that last-minute turn. I certainly don't regret the decision, but I can't say I never think about it. I suppose I'm most reminded of it when I visit campus, which I still do fairly frequently. Not by coincidence, every time I'm there, I like to wander around with my camera.

An irony that was never lost on me was the fact that the College of Engineering was immediately adjacent to one of the art buildings in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Every day I would walk out from the drab interior of Link Hall and into the glowing footprint of Shaffer Hall; a daily reminder of what was and what might have been. But, even as students on different trajectories, we had our commonalities. At night, we engineers would spend hours upon hours holed up in the basement labs while the art students would tirelessly prepare their displays across the way. As the clocks would tick over well past midnight, we would each emerge in small numbers from our respective hideaways, swap stories, and walk home together. One year, I lived with an art major, and we were great friends. He told his friends I went to the geek school; I told mine he studied arts and crafts. Together, we laughed.

When I was making my decision on what to do in college, someone told me "you can always practice art as a hobby..." which I suppose was sound advice. It's hard to imagine that conversation took place in a time when there was no social media; only a vague concept of digital photography; and certainly no vehicle for self-publishing. I recall worrying that if I had chosen to go into art, I would never have been able to make a living from it. And just as I had questions then about the certainty of my future, I wonder these days if I were making my living through art, whether I would enjoy it nearly as much as I do. In the end, I suppose the greatest question of all is how one defines an artist. Is it someone who studies art in college, or is it someone who views the world differently than others and then creates something from it?

Footnotes: All images, Fujifilm X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R