This I Believe

james - matawan, New Jersey
Entered on November 15, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: creativity

Last year in my Advanced Placement Art History class, I had the opportunity to work with clay and sculpt my own “artistic masterpiece.” With the AP exam and nine months learning about hundreds of sculptures behind me, I dug into the clay with the confidence that I could create my own David; okay, create something. I soon learned how difficult an endeavor this was, which immediately made me appreciate four thousand years of art work that I had otherwise written off as “a course of academic study.”

After a pound of clay and several hours of my own time toiling at this “fun,” hands-on activity (assigned to promote a better understanding of Renaissance sculpture), I created a piece that, for me, suggests a profound and enlightening view of life and the world. The artwork is simple in design and deemed amateur at best by my teacher, but the message it conveys goes way beyond the orange paint and rough exterior. To describe this sculpture is an easy exercise: it is half a body with arms but no head, grounded into a thick circular block. The title I gave it is Man in Well.

I grew fond of Man in Well. Pondering my crude efforts helped me to better understand the allegories of David, the symbolism of Michelangelo, the power of da Vinci. I had an epiphany regarding my modest lump of clay: Man in Well represents American society as I know it to be today. We are raised to believe that success and our quality of life is of the utmost importance. At every turn, we are inculcated in the ideals of the American Dream. As a whole, our ultimate goal is to become a contributory member of society. If accomplished, the expectation is that the quality of life in every aspect would be complete – and one can live a happy, albeit complacent life. Satisfactorily. Successfully. Complacently. Happily?

The problem is that we all too often become trapped like this man, the man depicted in Man in Well. We get trapped in the well and stay there. We become a person who is blinded and forget what is truly important in this world or what was truly important to us. Our society, like my Man in Well, is only half a man in that it does not give its whole self. I observe a world of half truths, quarter efforts, and thirds of principles. Along the path of life in an effort to achieve that American dream, I see adults who have completed the process that I am about to embark on; what I see always brings me back to my artwork. I do not know if it is naive to observe this, but I feel I have lived long enough to know what is right and what is wrong, what is important and what is arbitrary. I cannot allow to myself to become trapped in the meaningless aspects of life and blinded by the fractions of living. As I begin my journey toward self-expression, manhood and academic enlightenment, I hope to be the person I set out to be. I will not become a man in well.