As introduced in the two previous POTW notes, writer Henry James proposed the following checklist for tackling the very personal, equivocal and essential question "Is it art?"
1. What was the artist trying to achieve?
2. Did he/she succeed?
3. Was it worth doing?
The good news is that with enough blood, sweat and tears it is often possible to achieve some broad agreement on questions one and two. You already know the bad news -- question three is a quagmire with little hope of consensus. Thoughtful observers will disagree on the value of an artwork because "worth" is intimately tied to what gives meaning to their lives and nothing is more personal.
Henry James's three questions about art have guided me in drawing out the projects I truly care about from the thousands of pictures I've taken over the past forty-five years. This week's photo inspired a new series (for the moment also called "Safekeeping") that hopefully will make the cut and join my other projects that feel worthwhile.
I like the composition and the matching outfits but more so the first signs of childhood independence -- the scraped elbow, the redirected gaze and the gentle push away from the mother's embrace. I think "living" -- making our way safely and sanely under difficult and dangerous conditions -- is hard. I'm constantly awed at how often we not only pull it off but do so with courage, humor, creativity, wisdom and kindness. For me, trying to record these small personal triumphs is definitely "worth doing."