Unexpected Places / by Liz Brown


Through elementary school into highschool, I took a variety of art classes, from painting to drawing to pen design. Beauty was straightforward, easy, black and white, yet colourful.

However, in college, my dorm room was tiny and I didn’t have room or time for any of these mediums. So I grabbed my point-and-shoot camera and explored the streets of Chicago, finding beauty in alleys and other forgotten places. I bought an SLR six months later and shot my first hardcore show the next month. I was hooked.

I never shot at Millennium Park or at Willis Tower or at any of the typical Chicago landmarks. Part of it was stubbornness, I think, but part of me also wanted the challenge of finding something different, beautiful and unique, a sort of extraordinary quiet grit. I found beauty in unexpected places in a small way: through my camera.


Then I graduated and left that city. In moving from Chicago to Des Moines, I anticipated a slow, boring, and rather unbeautiful life. There wasn’t the wild feeling of exploration I’d had in Chicago when I drove through the streets I’d grown up on in Des Moines. I didn’t see beauty here. I didn’t see it for over a year.

 Des Moines required the same skill I’d began to cultivate in Chicago, but in a bigger way. The skill of seeing and seeking beauty in unexpected places. I learned that when you have to seek beauty in that way, you learn to own it in a different way than when it’s more obvious. You’ve discovered the beauty: it’s yours.

 And somehow here my restlessness turned into discovery and I was met with community and collaboration and more creativity than I’ve ever experienced in my life. I grew to love Des Moines deeply, seeing it not only as beautiful, but as perhaps the best place to create and experience art that I’ve ever lived.


 I’m reading a book called “The Artisan Soul.” I’ve been reading it for a while, and I’m slowly and steadily approaching the end. The premise is that the greatest works of art we can create are our own lives. That our lives are a work of art, and the same principals we use to create a visual or musical masterpiece are the skills we use to create a masterpiece of a life.

 Part of art is finding beauty in unexpected places. In shooting Chicago alleys and hardcore shows and on gritty street.

 And maybe that’s part of life, too. Sometimes that unexpected place is instead a corporate office. Sometimes it’s a routine or something new and scary. And sometimes that unexpected place of life and beauty and art is your own city.

 Most of you know my friend Sarah, and one of the things she’s taught me is that beauty is a choice: she often hashtags her photos “choose to see.” And maybe that’s the point:

 Part of art is finding beauty in unexpected places.

 And your life is the most beautiful work of art you can create.

But sometimes it’s hard to see any beauty around you. It’s a Tuesday, storming, and you have an insane workload. You’re ready to be anywhere but here. But I promise you, that wherever you’re at, there’s beauty all around you, if only you choose to see it.

 And perhaps learning to see beauty is the greatest work of art of all.