I Learned To Compose A Life Through Art - Here's How

Evan Shulman is a self-described philosopharticomposecreatolover. Approximately. Philosophize with him about anything - including the creative choices you're making in your life - and he'll be your biggest fan.

The last thing I wanted to do was take an art class.

Throughout my childhood, I envisioned myself an engineer, astronaut, or veterinarian. I didn’t see any creativity or artistry tied to those fields. I was inspired by the journeys of rocket ships and the love animals provided - not so much a painting, or a song, or whatever was defined as “art”.

And yet, there it was: the half-a-credit arts requirement in order to graduate. Art was relegated as an extracurricular. It was labeled as something separate, something superfluous perhaps. And for the high school me, this requirement stuck out like an annoying speed bump on my path in the sciences; it got in the way of me spending time on things I felt were truly important and that captured my interest more.

When presented with my “art” course options, I looked for the most “engineer-y” art class available. What had tech, or a gadget or gizmo that I could enjoy by entrancing myself in a mechanistic interaction? And there it was:  Photography.

It even had a scienc-y etymology - the graphing of photons, the tracing of light.

That should at least capture my attention while I hurry up and finish this art credit and get back to the real stuff, I thought. So I began, and as I did, my mutually exclusive boxes of

[ Science ]

[ Engineering ]

and [ Art ]

began to break down.


I specifically remember our first composition assignment from Mr. Foo. I didn’t fully understand the concept. It was framed as framing, and thinking about the elements within the frame that we choose to capture. The prompt spoke about considering how those elements related to one another. We learned about the “rule-of-thirds” in “composing” your “frame.”

So I went home with my loose interpretation of the assignment, and I began to choose my shots.

I carefully considered each one, peering through the viewfinder to find an interesting angle or frame that resonated with me. I was deliberately choosing what went in, and what went out, and in doing so I was composing and beginning to better understand this concept of composition.

Part of experiencing art lies beyond what happens on a stage, beyond what is displayed on the walls of museums

My freshman year of college, I had another arts & humanities requirement. This time I wasn’t as skeptical - in fact, I was even a bit eager to figure out which arts class I could experience. I signed up for “Arts Literacy in the 21st Century” and yet again, a class and a teacher forever changed my understanding of, and appreciation for, composition.

Professor Winter helped me understand that part of experiencing art lies beyond what happens on a stage, beyond what is displayed on the walls of museums. The art extends into the choices made of the venue where a performance is held. Or the kind of building and location that sets the context for a museum. Or how the programs and ads for an audience start shaping the experience even before one goes to witness it. These are all deliberate choices made by someone, or by a team of people. And whether choices made by constraints (“this is the only venue available at my price that meets our needs”) or by self-expression (“it needs to be here because of the lighting!”), they still denote a direction that leads to the final experience. And in the end, the viewers of the art get to experience what has been composed - a rich composition of myriad choices - from the flick of a painter’s wrist to the decision to have a coat check. My own frame of reference for art had been widened.

The composition at the heart art extends beyond. And what is the logical conclusion of this extension beyond? Life doesn’t just imitate art. Life is art.

Every moment becomes a canvas to continue my own life’s composition.

Our choices, whether on an instrument or charcoal, keyboard or mouse click - are the real artistic tools. They ultimately shape the composition of our mediums, the composition of our experiences, and therefore the composition of our reality.

Perhaps you already knew this. But for me, this realization has been liberating. Every moment is now an opportunity to practice my craft as composer. Every moment becomes a canvas to continue my own life’s composition. The whole spectrum of life becomes an opportunity to hone our craft.

We are

all of us