How a Visual Culture Becomes a Beautiful Culture

With the rise of technology, digital landscapes and the Instagram-age, there is no question our culture has taken a turn towards the visual. I am a part of this. My millennial roots reveal I would rather watch videos or stare at photos than read words. Image is the new normalcy.

    And in an image-driven culture, the question of 'what is beauty?' becomes relevant. As a visual artist, I find myself constantly asking, "How do I create something that is beautiful?" Image and beauty are related, but they are certainly not synonymous. Beauty is something else far off in the distance. She may present herself through image, but we instinctively know there is something more to her.

    We find beauty calls us into something deeper than the 'aesthetically-pleasing' or 'pretty'. She instead calls us into a more wholesome experience of ourselves. As we see her we find ourselves surprised, revitalized, and invited into God's mystery of an eternal embrace. "Beauty begets beauty," as Elaine Scarry writes. Beauty is contagious. Experiencing beauty compels us to live more beautiful lives.

    And yet, in this visually rich culture, beauty has been wounded. We twisted her when we decided she is best described in the language of glamour. Here beauty vanishes, hidden behind the jungle of a commercially driven world.

    The Church is not safe from these accusations. We too have decided beauty is more manageable in the category of propaganda. Our production values have gone up, our buildings have gotten prettier, and our font choices cleaner - all to lure in our visually stimulated generation.

    We crave more. Our appetites will always be appetites until we learn to satisfy it with that which is beautiful. More than visual stimulus, it is beauty that enwraps our souls and minds.     This of course begs the question, how do we steward a visual culture to also mean a beautiful one? I can only speak from experience.

    The last time I had a moment of 'beauty' was on a road trip with a small group of friends. We were in a cozy house, fourteen of us sitting around a long wooden table. We had just finished cooking a feast of chicken marsala, fresh tomato mozzarella pasta, roasted vegetables and baked bread. The meal was prayed for, the food passed around, laughter shared and stories shared. Life shared.

    It was in this sharing - this communion of life exchange together - where beauty had visited. It was as if God himself had come to take a picture, deciding this moment was beauty.

    Are not our most beautiful moments in sharing communion with one another? In the sharing of real intimacy with one another?  

    Sharing is different from the word telling. When we share instead of tell we open ourselves up to the possibility of being wrong. We become vulnerable but at the same time open ourselves up to the possibility of expanding our souls. Telling is a statement. It does not care about the opinions or thoughts of the other.

    Sharing is conversation.

    Our visual culture must represent sharing instead of telling. As an artist, when I make my work about telling I reduce it to propaganda. When I make my work about sharing I allow others into the deepest, most vulnerable parts of my soul. Only then can I manifest the beautiful.

    This is not easy. Our culture likes being told things with certainty. We would rather have people just agree with what we make. But we need grace for one another. To be wrong. To converse and disagree. To create weird and unclear things. And to be okay with the mystery of a God who holds it all together.

A Lesson Learned From My Pee-Drinking Uncle

I have an uncle who drinks his own urine.

He swears it's like drinking from the fountain of youth. And I don't blame him. Ever since he's started this pee drinking ritual he's looked healthier than ever. I mean, he's a 65-year-old dude with luscious long hair, a buff body, and he freakin' windsurfs! Windsurfing is a big boy sport.

My uncle has bestowed upon me the book - I will call it The Book of Golden Glory - detailing how drinking your own urine is basically the best thing you could ever do for yourself. Here are a few ground rules I learned while reading.

1. You need to drink it everyday. Consistency is key.
2. It needs to be your morning pee. It's the freshest.
3. You can't mix it with anything. Messes with the chemistry.
4. Luckily you are allowed to refrigerate it before you drink it. Because you know, otherwise it would be warm, and warm pee just sounds wrong.

I've been tempted to try this odd fountain of youth for quite some time now. But I don't want to do it alone. And every time I try to get my friends to do it with me they give me this long stare like I just asked them to jump off a cliff. So sad.

I really do look up to my uncle though. You see, when I tell my friends I am interested in this whole pee-drinking thing we laugh about it. But what if I actually did it like my uncle does? I would imagine that, for me at least, it would be quite the emotionally taxing process to look daily into the faces of people who thought I was crazy.

Is there any worse feeling than being judged? Catch any whiff of judgment in the air and you'll probably find me hiding under a rock. It's much safer down there.


When I was in kindergarten we had a day where all the kids got to have their faces painted. I think I chose to look like a tiger, because tigers are awesome. I liked my facepaint so much that I decided it would be a good idea to not wash it off and come back to school the next day with facepaint still on. It was a brilliant idea. So I did not apply soap to my face that night, and the next morning I strolled into school still looking like a badass tiger.

What happened next profoundly changed me. I distinctly remember my friend Rick running by, turning back to look at me, and scrunching up his face he shrieked, "Ew, why didn't you wash your face?" I reached up to feel my paint crusted skin before my heart began to sink. Those words devastated me. There is nothing more poisonous than putting your heart and soul into an idea only to find judgment is waiting. I put myself out there, thought it would be cool to be a tiger for just one more day, and was cut down for it. I spent the rest of my day hearing similar comments, feeling dejected and regretful.


Yet, the people we look up to most in life put themselves out there anyways. It's as if those people realize that being judged is worth the cost if it means choosing to be their authentic selves. My uncle chooses to do this. He drinks his urine and is darn proud of it. 

I used to think choosing to be yourself was just an arrogant confidence thing. Maybe because it was the antithesis of my kindergarten reaction, but I thought if I just learned how to man up and punch everyone else in the face, then I could be myself. I tried this for a while and it sort of worked. With a clenched fist I'd be filled with anger whenever I experienced judgment from people. But... it faded, and the whole act became exhausting and lonely. I'd often find myself frustrated for no real reason.

The great artist and dancer Martha Graham once said this, "There is only one of you in the world, just one, and if that is not fulfilled then something has been lost". I've thought about this quote a lot. What does she mean something will be lost? Do I have something that important to contribute to the world?

What if there exists a responsibility, even a mandate, to be ourselves. Humans are compelled to live an authentic life, not for the sake of personal arrogance, but maybe because they are a gift to the world. Maybe there's a shade of color in the world that will not be seen until the specific person with that color paints it.

Maybe the world's picture is incomplete without you being you.


The time will come for me to drink my own urine, regardless of what my friends think or do. I believe the world needs it.

Alzheimer's, Human Bones, and Soul

My grandfather has had Alzheimer's for about a decade now. It runs deep in the family. We'll usually be sitting around the dinner table when my grandpa blurts out, "Bryan, are you in college now?" I tell him I go to USC and he reveals to me that it makes us classmates. Cue five minutes, "Bryan, are you in college now?" I explain again that I go to USC and with the same amount of fervent passion as before he reveals to me a second time that it makes us classmates. Thanks for the heads up, grandpa.

He's been asking me this same question for the past four years now, which I suppose is a good thing. If I look at it from my grandpa's perspective I'll probably get to stay in college forever.

I already know there's a high probability I will get the disease. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Heck, I already lose my wallet once a day because I forget where I put it! I swear it just disappears (or it might be more of a personal responsibility thing, but I'll take any excuse I can get).

Slowly as my grandpa has lost the ability to do things he will occasionally get frustrated with himself - call himself useless. My mom likes to make this analogy to my grandpa in times of need. She rests her hand in his, "it's just that your brain has already used up all its hard drive space, there's no more room!" I'm not sure how exactly my grandpa reacts to that statement but it is true. For what he does remember, his hard drive is rich with peculiar memories.

I remember one day we were sitting in a restaurant munching on chips and salsa when my grandpa just started going off about his childhood. Apparently he and his friends back in China would dig up bones - human bones - from old graves near their homes to play baseball with them.

I imagine they must have used the femur as bats and, well, skulls for the ball. It only makes sense.

Mr. Alzheimer's was particularly strong the night at that restaurant. My grandpa described filling his nails with dirt as they picked their bats and balls of choice from the graves. He got to the midway part of the story where he talked about being the batter. His femur bat was just making contact with the skull ball when all of the sudden... he completely forgot he was telling the story! I never got to know if he hit a home run because, with a smile on his face, he would just start to retell the story from the beginning, re-explaining in detail the laborious process of digging bones out of the ground to prep for the game. I think he might have told the same story nine times that night. I could be wrong; I was trying to keep a tally but I was also laughing too hard on the floor. 

I tell this story in particular because that night I think I realized something about my grandpa. For me, him repeating the story over and over again made his story true. That's easy to say though; I mean everyone's stories are true, right?

But, that's the thing I'm observing about Alzheimer's. Your brain forgets what's going on so quickly that often you just speak what's on your mind - totally unfiltered. That may seem like a flaw, but it creates something very raw about my grandpa. It was like I was staring into the soul of another person who was clearly so passionate and happy about this memory that he told it, without hesitancy, again and again. He had no mental capacity to create fluff, so everything that came from him was of him.    

And what was of him and inside his soul from this memory were hints of joy. 

This just gets me thinking, what is my soul going to become about? I'm not sure - because right now it seems like I spend most of my time worrying and being anxious about silly things. You know, things like, are people going to like me more if I say something super deep and profound? Or am I sure I bought the right kind of flowers for my girlfriend (she doesn't really care)? But I don't want all that Alzheimer's leaves me with to be about worry and anxiety. And the clock is ticking. I only have 350,400 hours before Alzheimer's usually starts to kick in for people, so I better start making some more joyful memories. Yes I did the math. 

I'm looking for a little hope. There are some wise people out there who speak of God as if he brings them joy all the time. Wake up with joy. Suffer with joy. Take a poo with joy. Sleep with joy. It's as if God has filled their soul with endless euphoria.

Endless euphoria sounds like something you can only experience in heaven.

But I have a theory. Maybe Alzheimer's is a gift that when done right you can experience heaven a little earlier than most people. Alzheimer's will strip everything from me except for the core of who I am. I hope that somehow I become so tight friends with God that worry and anxiety does not become my soul. 

Then, even if Alzheimer's takes my mind away slowly - my mind will be jumbled and lost in my soul's contentment of joy. 

It will be endless euphoria on earth, and it will be sweet.


 That's my grandpa. And that's me. 

That's my grandpa. And that's me.