When witnessing something unusual or beautiful or otherwise striking today, our first instinct is to capture it, share it or both.
We might post it immediately to our Stories on Instagram.
Or take a photo for ourselves, to remember the moment.
Or get a quick snapshot to send to a friend.
In doing so, we satisfy something specific and important in us.
You’ve felt it in those moments: that desire to internalize and extend what you’re experiencing. It’s this moment, sometimes even a fraction of a second, that drives artists to create. They process life this way, by wringing an experience for all its worth. They inspect it, digest it and turn it into something, be it a story, a painting or a song. But the truth is, we don’t need to be an artist or “creative person” to do so. We all have this instinct to give our experiences permanence and tangibility — it’s just that some people follow through on that inclination and others don’t. The ones who do, we call “creative.”
The rest of us, with our phones in hand, have a faster way of digesting our experiences. We snap a photo, or we post a blurb to social media, or we shoot off a text, and we release the moment. We’ve fulfilled that craving within us by hyper-processing it and sharing it with others. It’s like satisfying a deep hunger with cheap fast food (we literally call that online space our “feed”).
I wonder how many artists are doing this instead of painting. Or how many writers are taking what could be an essay, and reducing it to a group text. Or how many filmmakers are experiencing a spark that could fuel a movie, and instead putting it on TikTok. I wonder how many people could be artists and don’t know it, because they choose to parse out their lives for a distracted audience who’s barely registering it.
Susan Sontag wrote, in her essay “On Photography,”
“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it — by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
Social media, like photography, is an attempt to “certify our experience.” By capturing a moment, we aim to validate it for ourselves and others. But we do so in a fleeting, empty way.
Meanwhile, we could be writing a poem. Or drawing a picture, choreographing a dance, composing a musical piece. Art is the other way to understand what we experience and share it with others. (And yes, art can certainly include photography, although Sontag disagrees.) Creating something with our experience is our best option for validating it, regardless of whether other people see what we create or not.
When we satisfy our desire to certify the moment with a Tweet, or a Story, or a text to a friend, or a TikTok video, we sell it short. We reduce the experience to a single, throwaway-able moment, swiped by in a second, and we set the moment free. Even worse, we leave our experience (just born, fragile and fresh) in the hands of others who may not treat it with respect. They might perceive it differently than we do, mock it, minimize it, skew it in our memories, compare it to their own experience, taint it, steal it, rob it of the feelings it initially gave to us in that first, pure moment.
What if, instead, we went home and journaled about it? Or attempted to capture it with watercolor? Or turned it into a short story? What if we did so only for us — not with any expectation or hope of others appreciating it or validating it externally?
It is then that we live a creative life.
By digging deeper into those small interactions, occurrences or passing thoughts, by forgoing the cheap “fast food” of capturing or sharing, we nourish our mind and soul. We may even create something that produces meaning for someone else, eventually. But if nothing else, we fully experienced the moment for ourselves.
As C.S. Lewis put it:
“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
By refusing that initial instinct to share and move on, we allow ourselves to pass into the moment. Only then do we actually, fully “capture” it. We receive our experience, we become part of it, we live.
Thank you for reading!
If you’d like to hear more of me, you can sign up to my personal newsletter (I promise no spam, I am too lazy for this anyway).
Join me here: vanschneider.com/vip
PS: And if you haven’t seen it, I launched a new product. It’s called mymind.com and I have a feeling you’d love it.