“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers usually know the answer and non-photographers don’t think to ask. It gave me pause to think about the arts and what they mean to us.

I remember when I was teaching tech writing to graduate students and someone asked me “How do you know what to write?”

I was flummoxed. How did I know what to write?

I just knew. I never thought about it. I sometimes had to struggle for finding the right organization for a document, but I never failed to know what had to be there.

This flower really is pink!

So I went home and asked Garry “How do you know what film to shoot or what script to write?” He looked at me like I had two heads, so I explained what had happened in class and how I realized I knew what to write because … I just knew. Apparently, it was the same for him. You see the story and you know what you need to do with it.

I realized if you needed to ask, you were probably in the wrong place.

To me, it’s obvious why a picture was taken: the photographer saw something: light, shadow, image, color. Something spoke to the photographer and said: “Shoot me.”

I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows.

A Junco and the Cardinal

If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.


You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.”

Maybe this is true for some stuff, but I don’t see how it can apply to the arts. Or sports. You need to be taught, but you also need some ability. I spent years trying to learn to ice skate and I got to the point where I didn’t look too bad … but I was never really good at any of it, not even the simplest things. I had years of training and it was a complete waste of time, effort, and money.


If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer.

Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. It’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some chance of success. Not everyone has a talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something.

The challenge is determining what it is.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

28 thoughts on “WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE? – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. I agree with you, Marilyn… you just see something… it doesn’t always make it into the camera or onot the page… but you saw it and tried to catch an impression of it…

    But I agree most strongly with that last paragraph. I love music…can hear a half tone ‘off’… but my hands and voice might as well be tone deaf and you can’t, as the saying goes, make a silk purse froma sow’s ear. But you can encourage youngsters to find and follow their own gifts.


    1. It’s one of my issues with the “Just keep trying, you can do it!” thing. Everyone believes that will power will overcome everything. Up to a point, maybe — but past that point? If you can’t sing, you really can’t sing. If you can’t draw, you can’t. Can’t write? Find another outlet.

      The important thing is we help kids find what works for them, where their talent IS. But telling them to “NEVER GIVE UP!” is really unfair and kind of mean.


        1. There’s that word again: Truth. I often wonder if everyone has forgotten that there are truths, facts, knowledge, information involved in most human decisions. Even for children and adolescents, reality needs to come into play at some point. We always have a “good news” part of the news every night and they are always pointing out how some kid overcame staggering odds to do something he or she wanted. I appreciate the overcoming and all that, but what they fail to mention is that at the core of the issue, the child had TALENT too. She wanted to be a great singer — but she COULD sing. He wanted to be an athlete — but he WAS athletic. They had a problem too, but they had the core — some kind of talent and ability, some inherent ability to make it work.

          It bothers me when I read stuff which basically says “Don’t worry whether or not this is something you can do — ever. Just keep trying because you are bound to succeed.” Except — that’s not true.


          1. It is true that you can acquire skill… but knowing how to put paint on canvas won’t make you a great artist, nor will learning which keys to press in what order make you a great pianist… not without that spark of talent.


            1. Yup and no matter how politically or socially correct we want to be talent isn’t something you can learn. You can try (and many do). I had a tone-deaf friend who URGENTLY wanted to be an opera singer. Opera, no less. She took lessons and she had a fantastic VOICE, but she was always just at least a quarter or half tone off key. It was actually painful to listen to her. I knew someone who wanted to be a writer — except he was basically illiterate, but he wrote reams of material that I don’t think anyone could read. No paragraphs. No spaces between sentences. No sentences. It was just a heap of words. It must have meant something to him, but it never made any sense to anyone else.

              In the end, art is communication. But … different.


              1. I think that is you are driven by a dream, you should follow it and see where it leads… even if it does not lead where you expect. Art is communication… and we hpe we can understand it. I’m not sure we always have to though… maybe it matters more that it is created.


    1. Thanks. AND I just changed the pictures. There’s was some kind of error and they were all the wrong size and – oh never mind, it’s a WordPress thing. It IS difficult for many kids, especially when the thing they want to do and could be good at is for some reason not available to them. I young woman who cannot stand on her feet cannot be a floor nurse and someone who can’t sing the notes isn’t going to be doing a musical. Some stuff just can’t happen for that kid this time around the wheel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. its just a feeling you get, or often I am searching and find it. Funny thing reactions of others. Often what I find not so good, photo or writing, others find it great.


    1. Every time I’ve gotten any kind of award, it was for something I didn’t think was all that great. Garry commented on that, too. What YOU think is your best work never wins the prize and I have no idea why.


    1. And it takes time. Kids are supposed to “know” what they want to do when they enter college and frequently, they have NO idea what they want to do. They are young, they have no life experience, and their “advisors weren’t very good, either.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s like grokking something, from the Heinlein book–you get it or you don’t. In Tibetan Buddhism, we say some things are ‘self-secret’, because people can tell you and show you, but if you don’t GET it, you don’t get it.


    1. I remember when I finally “got it.” So my final paper for that course was a 36-page poem. I got my only “A” from that professor. He said: “You finally GOT it.”

      I could draw a picture of it, sort of but I could never describe it.


  4. This is why experienced people don’t often make the best teachers. I hate trying to train new people at work because I know what I need to do in every situation, but could never explain exactly the why of it. Even something that seems as mundane as my shelf stocking job has a lot of nuances that you either learn for yourself because you want to try and be better… or you aren’t going to pick up because you don’t care and nobody can really teach you the finer points. How am I supposed to explain to a newbie something that took me 20 years of work to discover for myself?


    1. I used to do inventory for my father’s company. It’s a lot more complicated than you think it could possibly be … because despite rumors to the contrary, it isn’t just “counting things” and then writing the number down. If only it was!


  5. This leaves me somewhat perplexed and I‘m not sure I get it. What I know is that I myself have never finished to learn. Learn to (better) understand, to grasp that not everyone is/could be ‚better‘ because well, NO they can‘t…. One example I had to learn early on was my son. Just because I was an effortlessly brilliant student I thought my son would be too if only he tried a bit more…. But no, for him, playing with his pals, being funny to amuse his friends, helping smaller kids was FAR more important than really listening to the teacher. He was exceptionally musical but it was all by ear, he just couldn‘t be bothered to practice. One day I found him playing a piece his teacher had given him…. Only, it wasn‘t the piece he had open on the piano and the booklet was even top to bottom!!!! I then realised that he just heard her playing the music a few times and he knew it but couldn‘t read it. Needless to say that he stopped taking lessons as soon as he was allowed to!
    My dear Hero Husband is very heavily accident prone, but also he seems to be unable to close a door silently or tread lightly. I always thought he should be more attentif and careful. Then my sister-in-law said to me: You know I think he can‘t do it. It‘s part of his inner being. I don‘t think he wants to stumble, to slam the door, it just happens….. I listened to her and since that very moment it doesn‘t upset me any longer. I don‘t have to take it personally because it was never meant to be (I still apologize for him to people when he wakes up their small kids or rips down their staircase pictures when stumbling up or down).
    Is that what you meant? It just seems to be far from the original title… but it‘s always interesting anyway to read your thoughts and they often make me sit up and ponder things I took for granted.


Talk to me!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.