Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fending Off The Blows : ART as a Shield

One thing blogging does, at least to me, is gives me WAAAY to much time to psychoanalyze myself. Counting the cob-webs in the corners of the ceilings of my living room, or trying to predict which direction the air from the furnace will will blow the dust-bunny across the floor, do little to dispel much of what rattles around in my head.


Among the 'things-to-do-while-you-await-the-inevitable' is to go through the boxes of stuff that we have carried around that define who we are, where we came from, who we are connected to and what is important to us. For me, I have boxes of photographs, negatives, slides. All these images 'ground' me to various times and places I have experienced.

For me, it is weird that while I sometimes forget where I put my car keys, I can identify almost to the day when and where I took a photograph from. Believe it or not, I was always a pretty shy guy growing up, at least from my perspective, but I had one skill that allowed me to reach past my shyness and to become 'part' of what was going on - Photography and Art. Once I discovered that my camera skills could open doors and take me places that my lack of good looks, lack of a cool car or lack of money could never take me, it changed me. The same goes for art - the discovery that I could take stuff and make things that would impress people was amazing.

So, as I was tossing through a box of prints the other day it hit me, that since those days of High School, I had been using my artistic skills as a 'social-shield' - a way to forge through the things that scared me so  I could get closer to the 'action' of life. If you asked people I knew 'back in the day' I'd be willing to bet that they would tell you that I almost always had my camera with me, or was almost always drawing something. Funny how these things follow us through our lives.

Putting on my self-analyzing Psychologist Hat, I can see that perhaps I was lucky, in that my social / personal addictions were less damaging than other behaviors I could have picked up on in those days - drugs, alcohol, etc. I just guess that I discovered I could get comfortable behind a camera, or in front of an easel, and let those things deflect my inability to do the more exciting things I wanted to. For instance, I never became a football start, though I LOVE football. I never made a game winning layup on a basketball court, or set a state record in a cross country race, but, I did CAPTURE those moments and got to live through them all the same.

I think that deep in side all of us artist types is the real, physical, psychological NEED to be a bit of a show-offs. I know that the public sometimes thinks that most artists are 'reclusive' and spend their life in solo suffering, in dingy studios, drinking away their inner demons, or shooting up drugs to get to their artistic space -- this may be true for some, but deep down, I think all of us artists just want to be ACCEPTED through our work, not necessarily FOR our work, if that makes any sense.

If I had to identify one moment that I felt really comfortable behind this 'artistic shield' was back in high school, when I worked for our school magazine and city newspaper. I don't know if it still exists, but back when I was walking the halls with my camera, there was a huge carpeted wall that acted like a huge bulletin board, where the school would display all the newspaper articles (and photographs) of students that appeared throughout the year about our school and its activities. The cool thing for me was seeing my byline "Truth Photo by Scott Lightfoot", or "Genesis Photo by Scott Lightfoot" in tiny type under many of the pictures. I guess it was kind of an ego boost to see more and more clippings appear during the year, filling the wall.

Since my high school had over 1000 students, it was STILL possible for me to hide a bit behind my camera, since I did not know everyone, anyhow, so I still had some sense of protective anonymity offered by the fact that MY picture never appeared anywhere - I have never been one to like having my photo taken. So, being shielded like this allowed me to go practically anywhere and every where to be involved more deeply in activities than others could only imagine.

This trend continued through college and on into the early phases of my professional life. My early working  years were spent as a news photographer - a logical, if not immediate extension of what I was building towards in high school. I worked this industry and felt the same sense of 'protective-shielded-access' to he worlds I was allowed to enter, see, photograph and live. I must admit, it is often a good feeling knowing that I can go into a situation, capture images, tell a story and then, walk away - least physically.

There were, as you can imagine some events and stories that were difficult to photograph, or to not get involved in because I was there to 'record' and not to 'interfere' as a journalist, I never became quite so cold or calloused that pain, suffering and death stopped affecting me - yet again, my camera was there to protect me - at a deeper level. I could photograph, print, edit, write and submit stories, then, unlike those who actually LIVED those moments. I could tuck them away in a box and move on to the next. Maybe my weird ability to remember my photographs when ever I see them is some kind of penance for my hiding behind the camera? I don't know.

Now, as I sit flipping through old photos and slide, I think of my current situation, and how in many new - and somewhat troubling - ways my Artwork is beginning to do the same thing for me now as photography did for so many years. I can create images that mean something to me, convey a message to others and let me 'escape' or 'hide' from feelings, emotions and issues that threaten to drive me over the edge. My Art has become my new Shield.

Alright. I am sick. I may have a short window in which to live. But, I am not dead. I am not incapacitated. I am however, stuck. I am not allowed to do 'traditional-work'. I am saddled with the fact that I must accept Disability Hand-Outs from the government. I must allow my great group of friends to help me - because they WANT to - not because I feel worthy of their assistance. It has also been hard for me to put down the 'shield' and extend my hand and say, "Yes, I DO need your help."

So to counter the dismal picture that life has painted for me, I pick up the shield (palette!) and have decided to get to work creating Art. Over the past few months since my diagnosis (and with the economic and physical help of many friends) I have turned half of my garage into a studio where I can now replace traditional work-time, with Art-work time. If I said, I spend a full 40 hours a week out there cranking out masterpieces that belong in the MOMA, that would be a lie...but, the new shield exists.

I use the Artistic Shield in many ways. When I return from a meeting with doctors where more bad news is given, or a possibly painful plan is laid out in front of me, I retreat to the studio. I crank up the stereo: sometimes annoying the neighbors with old Zeppelin tunes, or mellow out our end of the block with a late night offering of Reggae music - all played loudly - as I work on what ever art pieces I have going at the moment.

Sometimes, my Art Shield helps me deal with more personal issues between my wife or kids as they struggle to figure out their place in all this mess that I am putting them through. I retreat to the Shield - now it is time for the White Stripes, or the Clash...and I don't care that the neighbors are looking out the window to see the weird white-guy dancing in his studio, painting and doing air-guitar! This is MY SPACE, my safety zone, my place to try to get a grip, or in many cases, to just let go of all of the garbage in my head and  just create.

Most recently there has been a shift in how I use my artistic shield. Now instead of just protecting me from the realities I am forced to deal with, it is allowing me to be strong, to use the pattern on it's face to represent me as a person who is fighting a battle, who uses the shield not so much to hide behind but to inspire others to do the same, to find a way to push-back at all the crap, and find SOMETHING that drives you to keep fighting.

I still  use my shield to protect me from the toughest blows, but as I fight, I realize that I can use it to push back the demons, and the bombs thrown at me to reveal a man BEHIND it that is fighting to stay on his feet, to protect  himself and to be able to return to his family and friends as a whole man, and maybe a better man for having won this battle. SO, I continue to fight, continue to create and continue to use the shield to protect and reveal that ours is a battle worth to be fough.


  1. Scott: Have had a chance to review all your blogs and this new one in particular as a new emphasis for you going forward. Your journey strikes a chord in me and I resonate to many recorded notes regarding occupational choices and endeavors, unemployment or underemployment leading to uncertainty, getting thrown one of lifes curveballs and fielding it in a personal way, and commiting to a creative pursuit as a mandate. I would like to commend you on your writing style and straightforwardness. Your strengths include your abilities to observe in the moment (Impressionism), analyze by introspection (Realism), and express creatively in the written word (Expressionism). When you are ready, I would be very intrigued to see some of your art images posted online. You make note of the gallery and works-in-progress. I am curious about your choice of subject matter, your selection of media, the portfolio's progression over time, and how it may correlate to your written blog. And where you will be taking your artistic journey going forward. I commend you for getting the studio space put together and fighting for the personal mandate to create Art for its own sake as well as exploring its economic potential. I have placed this blog on my Favorites list as Number One to review going forward and look forward to its future releases. Thank you for the inspiration about driving towards the artistic path.

  2. Impressionist342,
    Thanks so much for your kind and insightful comments on my blog. I look forward to writing more as I continue on this often weird thing we call 'life'. I am intrigued daily by how it all fits together, sometimes seamlessly, some times messily, buy yet it does go on.... Thanks again.