A short essay by Justin Elm

Here is the first entry in the short series of fourth-year student writings that I introduced in yesterday’s post. This piece is from Justin Elm, written in response to an assignment asking students to write about something from outside the art world that had a significant influence on their artistic practice.

I’ll be back in a few days with the next entry in this series. Until then, enjoy this essay.


Art in the eyes of a farming family from Iowa was and is considered silly, frivolous, and non-functional. The closest thing to art appreciation is attending a Friday night showing of a film in an attempt to relax from the week’s work.

What is valued and taught in Iowa is hard work, loyalty, and honesty, which admittedly are all admirable qualities, and very important to my development as a contributing member of society and the structure of my value system. However, it does not help my understanding of art and the image.

Now we have a setting where the majority of individuals do not have access to art or understand art. The key to the question, then, is how art infiltrated my life. We’ll look to the development of culture in the time I grew up. Being born in 1988, I came into the world just at the right time to catch the wave of developing technology, globalization, and, more importantly, the Internet.

The Internet offers the wealth of information and images that will allow my pursuit of art. But just because there’s a door, I still need a reason to walk through it. It is my own understanding of myself that the reason to walk through the door was film. Film is the one type of image that is far-reaching enough for a young person to access on a large scale. Not only film in a theatre setting, but also the advent of the video store.

So now, as often as I can get out of the house, I have the opportunity to walk into a store that is strictly dedicated to the rental of image and culture. I can filter through infinite categories of style, stories, message, look, and feel that will develop my own personal taste and preference. This sort of exploration is perfect for a first introduction to some sort of work that was created for the purpose of viewing pleasure and influence. That range in film promotes starting off with something simple and easily understandable, and then working to much more advanced film. The progression breeds education in the understanding of images. Were my first encounter with images to have been some sort of extreme fine and high art, it may have had a negative influence on my acceptance.

The importance of that local video store was paramount, but obviously I could only go so far toward satisfying my consumption with a limited amount of films. Once the supply ran out, I had to look elsewhere to satisfy the addiction. In another time, it may have ended there, but this is where the importance of the Internet comes in. The Internet is where I look to find an endless amount of media to consume.

Even though we have the establishment of the wide-ranging influence of film, and then the continuation of media consumption through the Internet, I can’t solely give credit to technology for my interest and pursuit. I have to briefly credit a few very specific teachers that helped transform my initial interest into something more profound and refined. Without education and guidance from my high school art and humanities teachers, it is questionable whether or not I would have made the jump from image appreciation to image creation in the realm of fine art.

I feel it is satisfactory enough to give credit to film, followed by Internet, and then careful prompting from teachers whose main goal was to see young kids find a love for art just as they had. Now we can just leave it at that.

Visual & Critical Studies