Art is like life: you never know which direction it will hit you from next

You have to have a plan, but happiness depends on how well you roll with the punches.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley – Robert Burns

No plan, however well conceived, survives contact with the enemy. – Military Adage

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. – Mike Tyson

I finally made it down to the LeMay Museum in Tacoma yesterday. My gods, what a remarkable place. The 1930 Dusenberg may be the single most stunning piece of engineering I have ever seen, and it’s hardly the only cool as hell car in the building.

I took hundreds of shots, including this, the iconic hood ornament of a 1930 Lincoln L Brougham, and am looking forward to wading through them and seeing if any are good enough to offer for sale.

The outing has me thinking this ArtSunday morning about art and the course of our lives. Sometimes we set out to do things and life goes more or less according to plan. Other times we find our lives hijacked by by events and opportunities and randomness we never saw coming. Strategy vs. Serendipity, in other words, and navigating a path between them is perhaps the most challenging and important thing we do. Strategy is important because without it you wander aimlessly from one job to another. You wind up married to the wrong person because, well, he/she was there and what the heck.

Serendipity is important because who the hell can plan out the details of a life in the absence of all the new data that each day presents us with. What kind if life can it be if you aren’t open to unexpected joy?

Balance, in other words. Strategy and Serendipity, working together. Yin and Yang. Proactive and responsive, embraced in an eternal dance toward happiness.

22 months ago I took up shooting. I had always liked photography and had decided I was through with poetry, which had been my strategic creative outlet of the past 35 years. I had made new photographer friends – Lisa Wright and Greg Thow – and begun talking more about the subject with the people I knew who were already shooters.

When I bought my first camera on or about June 1, 2012, I had a plan. I lived in Colorado, and I imagined that I’d be big cinematic Western landscape boy. You know, like a million other Colorado photographers. There was this vista down near Taos, an expanse along the road between Angel Fire and Eagle’s Nest, in fact, that I had stuck in my mind. That image motivated me and I was going to go back and capture it when I got a chance.

But then – if I might borrow from Burns, life ganged agley. I’ve observed before that it never occurred to me that I’d be shooting things like cars.

When I picked up photography nearly a year ago, it never occurred to me that I had any interest in shooting old cars. Literally – that thought never once crossed my mind. I’m not a car guy. I mean, I like cars okay, but this isn’t and never has been anything more than a “hey, look at that cool old car” kind of passing interest for me. But one day last July I drove past a little roll-in at a bowling alley in Wheat Ridge (classic cars and bowling alleys go together like peanut butter and jelly), pulled over for the heck of it, and accidentally discovered that I’m not bad at this sort of photography.

That little bit of serendipity produced a series of shots that, while I’m a lot better now, I don’t find at all embarrassing.

(What is it with classic cars and bowling alleys, by the way.)

I was hooked. From that point on I started seeking out these roll-ins, and in the warm months you can find at least one or two somewhere around Denver every weekend. Events like that unexpected Saturday afternoon show at Wheat Ridge Lanes have been the source of most of my best photographs, in fact.

I eventually made it down to Taos, where I did take a couple of okay shots. But the vista that I had stuck in my head? I simply couldn’t bring it to life. It’s still in my head, and it’s fated to die there, I think.

However, I have taken at least one good Colorado panorama-type shot of the sort I imagined I’d specialize in. And it, of course, happened completely by accident. Right place, right time, eyes open to the unexpected.

In other words, life is like art: you chart the best strategic course that you can, but you have to be open to the unanticipated. You’re going to get punched in the mouth, as Iron Mike puts it, and so much of your happiness depends on how well you roll with the punch.

Happy ArtSunday.


  • I’m not really a car enthusiast, but these are excellent closeup shots, Sam.

    • Thanks. The thing is, I’m not a car enthusiast, either. Never have been. But I love design and the passion of mid-century Detroit is something we have lost for good.

  • The Cadillacs all look like Subarus now, and we need a new Preston Tucker.

    • Yep. It’s hard to imagine that an entire industry could have run out of ideas, and yes, there are some stylish cars being made. But not even remotely on the scale of the mid-century, when swinging for the fences seems to have been a prerequisite for entrance into the car business.

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