It sparkles, shines, absorbs light, and returns it with an exclusive sense of clarity. When we catch a look, or make an image, we rarely think about the essence of the illustration.
Water is ubiquitous. On a global scale it fills the oceans, humidifies our air, erodes our canyons, and in cold conditions, covers the soil in fluffy or brittle crystals. On a micro scale water dissolves and conducts nutrients to feed the cells of plants and animals.
This elemental blend of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen is a “just enough at the correct interval” substance. Too little or too much results in dire consequences for most living things. In varied conditions, it is a home for countless species of organisms, from the largest to the smallest forms of life on the planet. Because water can hold and carry both living organisms and inert substances, its purity varies dramatically, and this often dictates the nuances of how it can be exploited.
The evaporation of water is a magic cleanser, pulling moisture to the skies to leave impurities behind, gathering again in clouds and re-distributing with the help of global air currents and crashing storms.
That all sounds a lot like science. So the question is, does water qualify as a liberal art?
In the story of life and death, water can serve as the antagonist, the protagonist, the plot, the theme, the conflict, and the dénouement. Water’s immense power is central to local, national, and international political scuffles, decisions, and impacts. It has molded and will continue to determine geography, and the history of human life.
Social systems and customs are intimately tied to availability of water, and there is no economy on earth that does not leverage its value or suffer from its scarcity. Records of impact often are found concealed underwater, in soil, jungles, and caves as a lure for anthropologists. Fires, floods, and hurricanes fascinate us, and journalists seize on the opportunity to tell us about water’s role in devastation and prosperity. The influence in language, music, and theater is extensive, and of course, the mythical rain dance is one of many ceremonial customs tied to water.
Water also exists in a variety of shapes. It reflects color, catches light, flows, and freezes. It becomes artistic prey for photographers, filmmakers, and painters, who seek to capture the often temporary, spellbinding virtues of illumination and moisture as companions. Try as you will to find a photograph, moving picture, painting, or other work that does not reflect the image, influence, or impact of water. If you do, it is likely that you aren’t thinking philosophically enough. Sometimes it’s just not easy to see the light, but thinking with a camera can produce some remarkable, captive evidence of water’s role in our lives and our environment.