The Value of Vulnerability

Abstractions Photography Exhibit Vinyl Wall
Abstractions in Bokeh Gallery at the monOrchid through October 2015.


Photograph by Johnny Kerr

I wrote last week about the vulnerability of exposure. I’ve since spoken with a few individuals who read my post and took the word “vulnerable” in a negative context so I want to start today by clarifying that vulnerability is something I greatly value. Vulnerability and intimacy are both things that challenge me greatly as an introvert. However, I regularly seek them out because, if there’s one thing we know about challenges, we experience more growth when laboring through a challenge than when operating safely inside our comfort zone.

As an introvert, social interaction outside of my small circle of close friends is a source of anxiety and discomfort. It takes a lot of energy but I welcome it because I love people and I want to have more meaningful interactions and to keep learning. Sometimes this means making myself vulnerable by sharing something more personal to go beyond the typical surface conversation fodder, and sometimes it means being silent and truly listening to the other person rather than thinking of what to say next to keep the conversation from lulling. Sharing my art is another meaningful way for me to interact with people that comes more naturally for me.

Friday night brought me face-to-face in conversation with dozens of strangers who had comments, questions and compliments about my art. I was very grateful to also have many friends stop by and show their support, which helped release a little of the anxiety of meeting so many new people. Throughout the night I was asked several questions about where my images were made or about my techniques and processes, which I had expected and was prepared to answer. The questions that I was most frequently asked, and least prepared to answer, were “What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish with your art? What end are you working towards?” I can’t exactly recall how I answered these inquiries at different stages of the evening because it caught me off guard each time. Now that I’ve had a few days to chew on it I can be more articulate on the matter.

First of all, I have no commercial ambitions. The notion of making my living doing what I love sounds appealing but I already know from experience that it isn’t necessarily that simple. This isn’t to say I never want my work to yield financial benefits, just that I’m not particularly motivated by money. I have already experienced how making a living creating commercial art burns me out to the point that I no longer create art for myself. I find great fulfillment in personal artistic expression and I need the freedom and energy to pursue that, which I didn’t find in a full-time commercial setting. Since it is not likely that anyone is going to pay me just to make my art on my terms, I have let go of the notion of it being a main source of income in my life and I’m at peace with that. In teaching photography I have found a career that (though not without its own challenges and exhaustion) doesn’t take away my desire to study and create art, but rather fosters and inspires it.

To illustrate my next point I’d like to use an analogy. Have you ever gone to the movies by yourself? I have, and there’s a phenomenon that occurs when something hilarious, dramatic, or surprising happens on screen. I find myself, out of habit, looking to the seat next to me for a friend to share in the moment with. Similarly, when I create art one of my first instincts is to share it. I see beauty everywhere around me, and not always in obvious or expected places. When I find something beautiful I want to share it with anyone who will take the time to look with me.

So, after a weekend of personal reflection I can boil my answer to the aforementioned questions down to a single, concise response: I want to make and share art with others.

Johnny Kerr Abstractions Photography Exhibit
A few calm moments at Bokeh Gallery before the crowds. Photograph by Johnny Kerr

That really is the motivation behind everything I’m doing. Any other sub-goals or actions I take are aligned to it. When I share my work on social media I am sharing something new about myself with those who already know me. When my work is published or exhibited in a gallery I am sharing my art with a broader audience whom I don’t yet know. I do want exposure for my work but I’m not eager for five minutes of fame. I want to pursue a sustained, lifelong investigation of the world and people around me, to create things that are meaningful and fulfilling, and to share that with people as I go along. I believe in community, in empathy, in authentic connections between human beings. I think art is one of the most effective means of bridging the gap across people and cultures. I don’t think it even has to carry some profound message to do this. It can be as simple as inviting others to see something through your eyes.

I suppose I also have my eyes on a long-term, possibly unrealistic sub-goal, but I am very patient about this one. If I could do anything with my art, I would make art on my terms full time, be represented by a gallery (for exposure and financial means to travel and create more work), and possibly host workshops to promote art/photography education to future generations. I don’t expect this kind of thing to happen as young and new to the art world as I am, so I mean it when I say I’m patient. I’m okay with waiting until I am sixty-something and retired but I’m still going to work towards it every day because it still falls under the umbrella of what I said above: I want to make and share art with people.

So, thanks to the vulnerability of Friday’s social interactions, I have received the gift of clarity. The questions people asked me at the opening reception of my Abstractions exhibit provided the basis for reflection that resulted in a more clearly defined purpose behind what I’m doing and where I want it to take me.

To everyone who took the time to look at my art on Friday night, and to everyone who has engaged with me on social media with thoughtful comments when I post my work, I want to say thank you. Thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable in sharing a piece of me with you. Thank you for encouraging me with compliments and for challenging me with questions that cause me to go deeper and understand myself and the world around me better. Thank you for sharing a small piece of who you are every time you express an opinion or respond to one of my images with your personal insight.

Abstractions Photography Exhibit by Johnny Kerr
First Friday crowds at Bokeh Gallery. Photograph by MonOrchid curator Nicole Royse