When Art Enriches Friendships

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.  — C.S. Lewis

From left to right: Me, Sarah, Marla.

This past summer my friend Sarah Kingsley-Metzler and I flew out to Portland to see Marla and Jesse Hostetter Kropf and their two sons, Zeke and Keen. Marla and Sarah and I have been friends for well over 10 years now—that’s in addition to the nearly 20 years Sarah and I have known each other—and though the three of us have lived far apart for a significant amount of that time, I think it’s fair to say that we have collectively crossed the threshold of lifelong friendship.

One of Marla's photographs.

But even after 10, 15, 20 years, there are limits to how much we can know or understand about any single person. Time gives us the benefit of familiarity, however, we are continually changing, reshaped by layer after layer of experiences, which, subsequently, allows us space to appreciate the people closest to us in new ways.

Marla, Sarah and I are well into our respective career paths—Marla, a nurse practitioner; Sarah, a teacher with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction; and me, a design professor in higher ed. Despite the differences between us, which extend beyond the career choices we’ve made, the areas of common interests are still relatively clear. We all lived in Colorado at the same time and, consequently, share a love for the mountains, hiking and camping, and a general appreciation for the outdoors; our political beliefs are also generally the same, as are our attitudes about the importance of community; and all three of us are close to our families.

Marla's son Zeke also has some mad creative skills.

Still, the trip out West made me appreciate my friends in a new light. Now, I’ve always respected Marla as a pragmatic, cool-headed medical professional -- that is, the person who remains calm in any crisis. And even though this describes only part of who she is as an individual, I was surprised when she mentioned how much she enjoyed photography. Her days of singing in high school choirs long past, I’m embarrassed to say that it hadn’t occurred to me that finding a creative outlet was still important to her. Yes, as much as I proselytize about the colloquial language of art and how it should be accessible to everyone, Marla has been a humble reminder not to underestimate folks who are, for whatever reason, overlooked as “non-artist types.” I have newfound respect for her as a creative individual in her own right, and am impressed at the way she and Jesse have inspired the same enthusiasm for the arts in their sons.

My first hand-lettered project.

Sarah, by contrast, has invariably represented the quintessential artist. I used to envy her drawing and painting abilities, and assumed she would end up doing something artsy as far as her future work was concerned. So, when she opted to pursue teaching at the middle school and high school levels instead, I’m not sure the significance of that decision registered. Only now, in hindsight, can I imagine how uncertain she might have felt; she put aside something she knew she was good at to follow a trajectory that was a bit more ambiguous. And yet, despite the change in focus, Sarah’s interest in art never wavered. The skills she developed early on have come through in the way she teaches and mentors, and in the creative attitudes she inspires in her students.

One of Sarah's pen and ink drawings.

Art and design reflect abilities that are unique to each person but they also inspire connections in ways that deepen friendships and foster gratitude. Three friends, three artists. Our day jobs have taken us in divergent directions but I’m just beginning to see how much our shared appreciation for art will keep us connected for years to come.