When you are young, the need to express yourself is strong. You have, since childhood, most likely had your thoughts, your feelings, your most private inclinations, suppressed. Once you were a child and you were taught to see the world one way, to act one way, be one way — then, suddenly the years have flown by and you are almost an adult, you can express yourself.

And so you write, you sing, you paint, you draw, you make music, you pick up a camera, take photos, whatever. You do something and let your individuality show; through this expression, this lens in which you are seeing the world, you are proving that you matter, that in you is something true and unique and only exists because you say it is so.

Take a photograph, for example. On the whole, the photo as a singular thing means nothing. It takes no physical effort to produce, at least not in the traditional sense; one need only point the camera and click. This is the mechanical reproduction of life as seen through a lens, and whereas in the years before reproduction was possible one might need to paint the scene in front of them, with the camera all of that disappears. In essence, the art of photography is not the photo itself but the object inside the photo. The choice of subject, the point of view on it. By merely lifting the camera and pointing, the artist is making a value judgment — by snapping the photo, they are saying, this thing matters.

But let’s move forward now. Say you have been expressing yourself for many years, and what started in your teens has now advanced to your late twenties, maybe even your thirties. The expression, the very thing you for so long wanted to get out, has already been made, and the pent up demand to release that expression, on the whole, no longer exists. By this logic, it becomes difficult to say anything when you have already said it, and when — as a child turning into an adult — there were years upon years of built-up expression, suppressed though it was, which had already been released.

You would think, really, that the way back is to once again suppress the thoughts, but if you have been at least moderately successful, or even if you have only pleased yourself, the desire to do this becomes, somehow, less strong. And if you are heard in any way, be it through the authority you have at your job or through social media, where you can attain instant gratification, then there is something to that, I think.

Often, the best work an artist creates is early in their career, when that pent up expression feels so raw and visceral; when the filters that guide them through later parts of their life are not yet in place. Adulthood is an ongoing process of aging, maturing, of learning more and — in a sense — adding more layers through which all knowledge, and thereby expression, must be filtered. The more you know, you see, the harder it becomes to do anything, say anything, be anything. A man of knowledge can only then be a man of nothingness, for he knows that he knows nothing at all, and that anything he says is wrong, that it can’t be proven, and that there is a fountain of knowledge that, unbeknownst to him, most likely already exists.

This isn’t to say that an artist cannot continue creating work, or that the work won’t resonate; for some, the expression becomes stronger later in life, and the people who glom onto it can only understand it later, too, when they are older, more mature, and therefore welcome to receive it. Think of whiskey and how the taste of it, at least the more refined expressions, do not make sense to a child or even a young twenty-something’, in fact they may even repel them, for their tastebuds are not inclined to agree with the taste, undeveloped as they are at that particular age.

All art is like this too, which is why things either resonate with people when they do, or they simply do not. But to think that, at an older age, you should continue engaging with art of the immature, this is a fallacy, a way of deluding ourselves. Just as what we express changes, so too do the expressions we engage with.

We must never be afraid of growing up, growing older, becoming more attuned to our tastes.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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