If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
— Mary Schmich (though attributed as Kurt Vonnegut’s MIT commencement speech, 1997), also known asThe Sunscreen Song.
I love los angeles and I don’t think I will ever grow tired of california, but I know there’s an entire world out there to experience and every day is a new opportunity to do just that. Postscript, I hate the Beach Boys. Sorry.
— Bill Cunningham New York
— Wim Wenders, A Notebook On Clothes and Cities, 1989 (via Just focus)
This statement is from 1989, before the world-wide-web or the first digital camera (The Kodak DCS100) were created. It’s accurate in some ways, though deceptive — the conversation about the aura of an image, particularly in photography and film, is at the center of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Benjamin discusses at length implications of originality and the diminishing value of an image as it is commodified and consumed en masse. Unlike Wenders, he doesn’t simply denounce reproducibility, he arrives at a transformation of intent — “the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice — politics.”
Both Benjamin and Wenders showed incredible insight into the future, but neither could predict the rate at which the importance of authorship has diminished in the era of “curation” that Tumblr, WeHeartIt, Pinterest, and similar media-sharing communities have cultivated. The sense of identity that is lost with the originality of creation extends from these decades-old ideas about film to the modern era of blogs — the distinction between creator and spectator becomes increasingly blurry as the spectator is now a participant, the origin of an image is inconsequential as the masses of “curators” seek to define themselves by those images they consume, their [perceived] identity has become more important than the actual art (or the artists) from which they have derived it. Again from Benjamin (of film, but perhaps more applicable to blogging in 2011), “Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional… Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.”
So does this imply pejorative meaning? Has society regressed as creation is no longer a facility of the vanguard, now that anyone can be an author and further that the appreciator of a masterpiece is as important as the creator? Any opinion is likely determined as a result of one’s position as either author or curator… Conventional wisdom considers infinite reproduction as the destruction of value and ritual, the loss of identity and aura, desensitization. Traditionalists romanticise a bygone era where the separation between artist and spectator existed, where the artist was isolated in a class that existed outside of socio-economic bounds… but this need to grasp to an old-world ideology is clearly self-serving.
Futurists and spectators say “fuck it!” with a punk rock disregard for rules or bourgeois ideas of ownership — art in a classless society is for the people. Some of my favorite artists relied heavily on these notions — Andy Warhol as he explored the commodification of art with elevation of universally recognizable items iconic importance and the subversive factory-like reproduction of iconic images until the singular lost all meaning, and Keith Haring who shattered notions of originality with his POP SHOP, where his art was produced and sold for mass-consumption.
Love it or hate it, the depreciating value of originality is not slowing. In 1930, Georges Duhamel wrote of film, “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images… a pastime for helots, a diversion for uneducated, wretched, worn-out creatures who are consumed by their worries…, a spectacle which requires no concentration and presupposes no intelligence…, which kindles no light in the heart and awakens no hope other than the ridiculous one of someday becoming a ‘star’ in Los Angeles.” It’s almost as if he were describing a Tumblr dashboard streaming with infinite, seemingly identitical images, a web browser with innumerable tabs perpetually opening and closing to increasingly numb eyes and increasingly thoughtless minds.
But is Wenders talking about the value of photography in the age of digital reproduction or the authority? Is the fear that modern images lack the gravitas of old masterpieces, or that they betray truth as infinitesimal modification becomes easier and easier? Possibly both. It’s true that digital tools allow for a more persuasive level of deceit within a photograph than ever before, but the idea that forgery and alteration are products of technology is supercilious and puerile.
For decades the photograph was viewed as truth, as evidence, but it was never real, it never told the whole story. Magritte challenged the idea of representation with his painting of a pipe that stated explicitly, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). The important distinction was made between a physical object and oil paint applied to canvas in an attempt to depict that object. The statement seems obvious, but as the fidelity of the representation becomes greater, the distinction becomes less apparent — this is the case with photography. Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, exploited the trust vested in photographs to create false realities that he presented as truth among his works of photojournalism. He did not alter the surface of the image to fool the spectator, but rather staged a fiction within the frame that was assumed to be real. Digitally manipulating an image is just one way to deceive an audience, even an “original” in Wender’s terms cannot be trusted because reality exists beyond the bounds of the film frame. In terms of time and space, a still photograph lacks context — it can imply that which exists outside of its bounds, what’s directly above or below the crop of the image, what happened an instant before it was captured or what will happen an instant later, and thus it can create a narrative, but to take any image as truth is to disregard that conscious (and sub-conscious… and sometimes devious or self-serving) decisions were made to shape the content of the frame. The photo is not the truth, but rather the truth that the photographer wants the audience to see.
“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” — A Man Without a Country, 2005
Reminds me of this commencement speech (often attributed to Vonnegut), that surfaced during my formative years.