Expressions. Young man playing guitar while sitting at windowsill.


Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.

~Allen Ginsberg


I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.

~Mahatma Gandhi

True art cannot be judged; it exists as a form of expression.

We each have things we do to express ourselves—a creative outlet. Maybe we want people to like what we do; maybe we will never share it with anyone else.

Some eventually seek opinions about their expressions. When that line is crossed, our expressions become something else: something more formal, something owned by others as well as ourselves.

When I use the word expressions here, I’m referring broadly to those activities we engage in that help us express something in ourselves. Art falls into this category, but it also might be music, writing, or any form of artistic endeavor. It also might be a physical expression. Dance is a more obvious example, but sports and other physical activities might be expressions too. Surfing lends itself well to expression. It might also be the way we present ourselves, our personality, or our fashion. There are many ways we can express ourselves.

I express myself in a variety of ways. Some are more formal than others, and some are shared, while others are not. For activities I don’t share, I want to be good at them, but I don’t want formal training, as that would introduce an external element and influence their direction. Examples of these include drawing, poetry, and playing the harmonica; I don’t do any of these well, but they are fun for me and aren’t influenced by expectations or opinions.

Each of these things gives me great pleasure, helps me to understand myself better, and provides an outlet for the way I feel. In that sense, even though I do them “badly”, they are great works of art—each and every one of them.

At some point, our expressions might become something else. If we share them with others or ask others to give their opinions, we are, intentionally or not, engaging in these activities with this in mind.

There may be several motivations for sharing our expressions with others, and these can help us to understand how we express ourselves in those contexts.

  • We might want to share our expressions to share in the joy they give us. We’re not asking for a judgment about them; we’re only sharing the experience.
  • We might want feedback. We may be curious about what other people think.
  • We may want to take it to the next level. We may want to enter a realm where our expressions are judged by experts or held up to some accepted standard.
  • We may want to get paid to do what we love. In this case, we are allowing our expressions to be judged according to their economic worth, by how much people are willing to pay for them.

In the past, I have shared my poetry with my English professor sister. She, being who she is, was very supportive and encouraging. She also offered a gentle comparison of my work with the tenets of modern poetry. Because I have a musical background, my poems were more like song lyrics. Since that time, I’ve written in free verse, and one could argue that my poems have improved, but they are no longer the raw expressions of my previous poems.

My music is an interesting example of expression. Since I’m sometimes paid for playing music (bass guitar), the direction of those expressions is decidedly geared toward making audiences happy. But be that as it may, my playing is my interpretation of the songs. I’m still expressing myself, but I’m doing it within the parameters of a band playing for an audience.

Each of us has expressions, and we should never be shy or tentative about throwing ourselves into them. All of us can find ways of expressing ourselves; we don’t have to have artistic or musical talent. I know people who express themselves through the patterns the lawn mower makes in their yard.

Our expressions are part of who we are, and they are critical in helping us understand ourselves.

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