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"My American Dream is both a commentary on the changing face of the American Dream over the last half-century and a call to a New Dream; one based not on the accumulation of wealth and things, but on learning to live a meaningful life as one’s most authentic self..."

It’s been a Minute…

Hi everyone! Yes, I know it’s been a minute since my last post, and I apologize for being absent for so long, but I have a few really good excuses. I’ve been busily working the last several months on writing and publishing my first book (more on this in a minute), updating my website, designing new marketing materials, preparing for a show of a selection of my fine art prints that was held at the end of May, being a featured artist for the June Art Walk here in Clarksville, promoting my book in preparation for the launch, applying to a couple of exhibitions, trying to find the time to get out and photograph more, selling and preparing prints for clients, and the list goes on!! I’m tired, but determined to get back on course with regular posts here at the Light Brew Blog.

My American Dream

I want to take a moment today to share a little with you about my new book, since it officially launched yesterday, June 20th (my Granny’s birthday), and to share some of its message about creativity. My American Dream, Finding a Second Chance at Life in Photographs of Abandoned Places is a unique photo essay and memoir written for art lovers and people seeking rare and valuable guidance on how to rebuild their lives after a personal crisis. In it I share a selection of my photographs of abandoned places in the American mid-South. I also candidly relate my personal story of losing the American Dream in midlife, then finally, unexpectedly finding a second chance at life in the ruins of abandoned places. My goal in this book is to show you how connecting with the right creative work, on the right subject, at the right time, can touch your deepest self and shape who you are anew.

A selection of my canvas, metal and framed prints for sale at Journey's Eye Studio in Clarksville, Tennessee.

It was great having the opportunity to share some of my photographs with local art lovers!

My American Dream is both a commentary on the changing face of the American Dream over the last half-century and a call to a New Dream; one based not on the accumulation of wealth and things, but on learning to live a meaningful life as one’s most authentic self. Fundamentally, my journey is a testament to the transformative power of creativity, and one filled with valuable lessons for anyone searching for a more meaningful life. The one lesson I hope all readers take away from my story is that anyone can find healing in creativity.

What is Creativity?

Let’s start by defining creativity. Here are some of the definitions of creativity readily available on the internet:

“1. the ability to create; 2. The quality of being creative.” (Merriam-Webster)

“Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.” (Wikipedia)

“The use of imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of artistic work.” (Google Dictionary)

These definitions are, understandably, very broad, since acts of creativity take many forms and the products of creativity manifest in both tangible (e.g., works of art, such as photographs) and intangible (e.g., ideas, like new theories and concepts) ways. There are so many ways of being creative that anyone can find her or his own creative niche. I also believe that anyone can find an affordable form of creativity that he or she enjoys. The activities of cooking or gardening, for example, can be just as creative and artistic as photographing or painting.

What is Self-Help?

My new book for sale at Journey's Eye Studio in Clarksville.

Most of us probably think of something similar to this Dictionary.com definition below when we think of self-help:

“The acquiring of information or the solving of one's problems, especially those of a psychological nature, without the direct supervision of professionals or experts, as by independent reading or by joining or forming lay groups that are devoted to one's interests or goals.”

A person suffering from overwhelming feelings of grief from the loss of a loved one, for example, might join a grief support group or purchase a pop psychology book about methods for overcoming grief, rather than seek help from a mental health professional in the form of anti-depressants and/or individual counseling. This person is searching for the tools she needs to cope with her feelings of grief. Perhaps some of these tools work for some people, but according to an article published on the American Psychological Association website, 95% of self-help books are published without any scientific evidence to support that the tools they advocate actually work.

If you prefer to buy from local retailers, stop in the store for a copy or give them a call at 617-901-3374. 

In all honesty, I’ve never been crazy about the self-help movement that has been sweeping the western world for at least the last 40 years. That’s primarily because of my 20+ years of experience studying healing of all kinds in anthropology and public health. Professionally, I have generally viewed much of the self-help literature, filled as it is with easy answers to life’s ills, as tripe designed to lure vulnerable, unhappy people into spending money on ineffective quick fixes. I also believe that the self-help phenomenon, as part of the increasing emphasis on taking personal responsibility for individual health, is complicit in blaming people for their ills. Many of those trying to help themselves end up feeling like failures when the quick fixes don’t work, which can result in more depression and despair. It’s all-too-easy for self-help to become self-criticism.

Creativity as Self-Help

The healing power of creativity, on the other hand, is not a gimmick and it’s relatively well documented. There is absolutely nothing negative about being creative, as long as one remembers that the products of one’s creativity are inherently valuable. You don’t have to be an “artist” in the traditional sense of the word to reap the benefits of regularly immersing yourself in creative acts. Or put a better way, anyone can be an artist, if an artist is someone who creates something new, personally meaningful, and treasured. There is no law saying that one has to accept the societal standards intended to define what is generally considered art. I have seen many juried photographic exhibitions and I can tell you for sure that there is simply no accounting for taste! As in most things, being an accepted artist is often more about who you know than actual talent.

I wholeheartedly believe that you can be whatever you decide to be and that you become an artist the first time you create something that is more than the sum of its parts. After all, a delicious and satisfying meal is more than the sum of its ingredients, a beautifully woven blanket is more than the sum of its thread, and a provocative photographic print is more than a piece of paper covered in ink.

Main Street, one of my photographs of abandoned places in the mid-south featured in my new book.

Finding Healing in Your Own Creative Niche

What does creativity as self-help look like? There’s no mystery here; it looks just like any creative act! Creative acts are naturally healing endeavors. When we are creative, we de-focus into the act of creation, no matter what form our creativity takes, and no matter what the products are of our efforts. Healing through creativity is as simple as busying the self (the mind/body oneness of you) in pleasurable and productive activity; in the work of creativity. When we are creative, we immerse our whole beings into the act of birthing something new that is inherently valuable, as I mentioned earlier, because it is more than the sum of its parts. This is true of both tangible creations, like a birdhouse, and intangible creations, like new ideas.

In God We Trust, an abandoned church included in the book, and a very popular print.

There is also no mystery to finding your own special form of creativity; anything that makes you feel good, if only briefly, will likely do the healing trick. Just engage in a form of creativity that you like, is practical for you, and that gives you brief moments of accomplishment, satisfaction, and joy. Avoid choosing something that is too difficult for you to complete, or you’ll quickly get discouraged. Choose something you can do reasonably well to start, and your skill will increase over time. Repeat this activity as often as possible, following the good feelings along their natural course. You will grow in ability, in emotional outlook, and in health.

The aim is not to overcome, but to pass through difficulty, bolstered by the grounding and centering effects of creativity. If your chosen form of creativity is subject-oriented, like photography, painting, or writing, don’t think that you have to focus on a subject directly related to whatever ails you. In the earlier example I gave of someone grieving from the loss of a loved one, the idea isn’t to paint portraits of the dearly departed ad infinitum. Rather, paint the subjects you enjoy, the ones that fascinate you, or to which you are most drawn. There is no need to deliberately search for subjects or a form of expression that directly confronts your pain. The primary form your creativity takes over time, as well as the most healing subjects, will naturally find you. In fact, you’ll probably end up producing creations that speak metaphorically, rather than directly, to your suffering.

In my case, photographing abandoned places helped me to finally heal from the experiences of losing my career, home, and pets, during several long years of unemployment in my forties. Engaging creatively with abandoned places helped me heal not so much by choice, as by chance. I was drawn to photographing these places, not because I consciously decided that they would help me heal, but because they were naturally, deeply, and metaphorically connected to my feelings of loss, disillusionment, and hopelessness. I didn’t choose the subject; the subject chose me. I believe that this is the real mystery of creativity – its power to imperceptibly move us towards the work me need to do, and thereby transform our lives.

The Transformative Power of Creativity

Creative acts, as well as their products, can be absolutely transformative. Experiencing fine art, whether as a creator or an enthusiast, can transform body and soul, heal old wounds, and open one to fresh horizons filled with endless possibility. Working creatively with the right subject can save your life, because creatively engaging in the right medium, on the right subject, at the right time can help you manifest your greatest creation – a new, inherently valuable and authentic sense of self. It sounds complicated, but it’s miraculously simple; you manifest your authentic self in the world through your creations. And you transform who you are in the process. Fundamentally, being creative gives you the chance to create something beautiful; a piece of art, a sense of self, to give back to the world, instead of endlessly consuming. The act of creation is its own reward.

Family Farm, a dilapidated farm house that now serves as housing for migrant laborers in Kentucky.

Where to Find My American Dream

If you would like to learn more about the transformative power of creativity, please read my book. You can find it in hardcover, softcover, and eBook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Indiebound, and many other outlets. Most formats are already on sale! The feedback I have received from early readers has been phenomenal, so I think you’ll enjoy it. Once you’ve read it, please think about leaving a review.

I am also running a contest over the next month giving away four hardcover copies to new subscribers to the Light Brew Photography Newsletter. Please help me spread the word by sharing this post and My American Dream with your followers and friends. Thanks for reading!

-- Angela Martin

p.s. – Click here to get a FREE PDF Download of the Introduction to my new book, My American Dream, Finding a Second Chance at Life in Photographs of Abandoned Places. For a limited time, you will also be automatically entered for a chance to win one of four hardcover copies I am giving away to new subscribers over the summer!

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