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How the Outdoors Changed My Perspective on Art and Life

Yeah…I was that asshole who thought art is useless, but the outdoors changed all that for me.

By: Matt Van Swol + Save to a List

I was never really one for the arts growing up. My dad was a doctor, a man of science, and pushed all of us kids in that direction. I went to college and majored in (go figure) biology and quickly got a job as a nuclear scientist for the Dept. of Energy. Curiously, the girl I was seriously dating at the time was an artist. We used to get into fights all the time about the usefulness of art in culture and I sincerely remember saying once that “art is completely useless.” Yeah… I was that asshole, but the outdoors changed all that for me.

In March of 2016, I got dumped (let’s be honest…I probably deserved it), and my life just started spiraling downward from there. I started drinking, pretty heavily. Shut out most of my friends and family, and was content to waste my life away trying to forget the unforgettable and feel something again. Admittedly, I was a pretty sad case. One of my friends however, wasn’t content to see me drink my time away, and one day she barged into my apartment, dragged my drunken ass off the floor and drove me to a mountain. It’s a day I’ll never forget, even if I can barely remember it. It was the day I fell in love with the outdoors, and coincidentally…photography. I remember shooting my first photo of some flower as it blew in the wind, the first shot of a birds nest with a bright blue egg inside it, the rolling peaks of the North Georgia Mountains. It changed me. It’s hard to describe, but a part of me that was dead decided to sprout roots and grow, or it felt like that anyway, still does.

The outdoors does something to a person that can only be described as transcendent. It encourages thought beyond your day-to-day life and puts things in perspective. For me, that day wandering the mountains of North Georgia was a slap in the face to the way I had been living my life. It shattered all my doubts of being worthless, all my fears of being unsuccessful, and all my expectations of a life well lived.  When it’s just you and the mountains, it’s ok to yell and scream and work through hard life questions. Viewing and creating beauty is what humans were hard-wired to do. It’s why you and I open up Instagram every day: we want to see something inspiring, something worthy of our attention…something beautiful. It’s why we go to work every day, not to make the money, but to spend it creating. Creating memories, creating art, creating. That’s what I didn’t understand all those years in college, all those years of being an ass to my girlfriend… all of life is creating, viewing, and celebrating beauty. The outdoors constantly screams this message, from the snow-capped mountains, to the tinniest blade of grass, you just have to slow down enough to hear it. Do you?

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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