“You know what I think makes someone a great artist? Curiosity.”

That’s what I just shared with a kid I’m mentoring on his quest to become an artist.

I told him I first realized that after reading a story about Dennis Hopper, he of “Easy Rider”, “Blue Velvet” and “Apocalypse Now” fame.

In the story, Hopper was explaining how he learned to become a director. “You have to think of the shot as fitting in a 4×6 frame,” he said (or something like that). “Then only shoot what fits in that frame.”

I’ve always loved that and it’s one of the fundamental rules of my own writing practice.

What I tried to do today was tell my mentee about how I think you turn that picture frame into art.

“To me,” I said, “an artist looks at everything in that picture frame…and I mean down to the single dead leaf on the curb or the crumpled socks of the man sitting on the bench… and asks not only ‘What is that?’, but also ‘Why is that?'”

“Then you take that story…and you ask again.

“Not just ‘What?’, but also ‘Why?'”

“And you keep asking until the point that you have a whole bunch of stories that have come together, in some seemingly random moment…to create the story that, right now, is in that 4×6 frame.”

“That’s how a picture becomes art,” I said. “At least, that’s how I think it does. I could always be wrong!”

The kid and I talked about all of this for a few minutes. Then, as I turned back to my art, I glanced over my laptop and watched him come alive in his art (gods and goddesses, is there anything better than watching another human come alive!?!!).

And I thought to myself, “You know, that’s not just how art is. That’s how life is.”

Because, if you think about it, as we each go into and through whatever day we may be in right now, we can go through it as if it’s just some random, one dimensional scene in a 4 x 6 picture frame.

Or.

We can, right this very moment, look up, look left, look right, look within and ask, “What is that?”

“Why is that?”

“And that? And that?”

Then, if we choose, we can take everything we learn, all that we witness.

And turn our own lives.

Into works of art.

The Practice of Being Alive is a collection of stories about getting through this thing called life.