The question posed by a child in a late night phone call was a simple one: "Why do you do what you do?" Tony Deifell took that query to heart and started a website where individuals could post an answer using images and text. WDYDWYD has grown into a collaborative Internet art project over the past 12 years.
When a friend sent an invitation to participate, I wasn't sure how to respond. I looked at examples submitted by others and noted that the majority of posted responses had to do with self - phrases stating "I want to ...." "I have to..." "I need to..." or "I love to..." dominated the site's content.
Writing about "self" today is like broadcasting a weather report. Facebook postings and Tweets expose to the world every little detail of individual, personal life, in real time. What I ate for breakfast or what colour socks I am wearing or what things I am buying now are considered noteworthy and vital bits of information that must be shared with contacts in cyberspace in the form of an ongoing, running monologue that fishes for reaction. There's a general acceptance of the compulsion to fabricate and maintain this day-to-day sense of self with validation via social networks. Hits for your blog and "Likes" for your Facebook postings count as positive reinforcement for an ego that needs constant attention and boosting.
Whatever happened to transcendence? The idea that one can go "beyond or above the range of normal or physical human experience" (Oxford dictionary definition) seems to be passe. Self-forgetfulness may be out of style, but for me, it's the underpinning and the end goal for creative work.
"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." - Lao Tzu
"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on." - Havelock Ellis
"In self-forgetfulness, one draws closer to God." - Henry David Thoreau
"What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration." - Elizabeth Bishop
"In everyday life, we are always monitoring how we appear to other people: we are on the alert to defend ourselves from potential slights and anxious to make a favourable impression. Typically this awareness of self is a burden. ... Paradoxically, the self expands through acts of self-forgetfulness."
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
"Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. In doing so, you must leave your preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn." - Matsuo Basho
"To me there is in happiness an element of self-forgetfulness. You lose yourself in something outside yourself when you are happy; just as when you are desperately miserable you are intensely conscious of yourself, are a solid little lump of ego weighing a ton." - Joseph Priestley
I had to position myself off-centre, turn away from the camera lens, and reach a little higher to make this self-portrait right.