Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter a chance to win a
PORTFOLIO REVIEW and a 45 MINUTE MENTORING SESSION!
I’m writing this from a plane traveling from Philadelphia to Phoenix. I’m on my way home after a week in Pennsylvania visiting family and shooting for my new series.
I rented a house that was built in 1723. Falling apart, filled with character, it is a photographer’s dream. Especially in America, where old (truly old) is hard to come by. I had rented this particular house for a couple of workshops years before so I knew it was golden. I called a few days before arriving, agreed on a price, and got to work.
Then I wrestled with what worthwhile meant. How can I experiment if I expect myself to produce?
Expectation is the death of creativity.
This I know. This I have suffered before. And yet, some part of myself could not be quieted. The first day I created physical art with my hands. I prepared for the second day of shooting where I’d have models I didn’t know and limited time to get the finished products. I took test shots. I assessed the light like a good photographer would. I found the space that looked nicest.
And everything felt wrong. I left after a 12-hour day of experimenting feeling like I had taken two steps back. I wasn’t ready. I knew in my bones I wasn’t ready. It felt wrong.
I’ve felt that gut feeling before. One was when I moved to LA and the moment I did, I knew I didn’t want to make films. I felt it again when I was asked to shoot commercially. I knew I shouldn’t. And of course, there have been countless times that were smaller, more insignificant, like this past week, where I felt I was doing the wrong thing.
Everything about the shoot felt wrong – the location, the images. It wasn’t coming from my heart. It was coming from a sort of desperation to be different, to surprise myself, but for what?
And, more than that – I couldn’t! I had been trying so hard to do something different, but at the end of the day, everything I shot looked like it always does. My vision is so singular. That has allowed me a career that grew quickly and successfully, but that limits me when I try to break from it.
I’m being long-winded to make a relatively simple point, but I’m being long-winded because there are so many details that go into an artist’s decisions. Here is the heart of what I want to tell you.
We are artists. Even if you’re reading this and you don’t think so, don’t count yourself out so quickly. It doesn’t matter if you make things with a camera or your hands, music or baking, spreadsheets or daydreams. What matters is that you have the potential to create, and that is enough.
We are artists. And artists, often, are sensitive about their art. We have a hard-enough time as it is being accepted, being understood. We put pressure on ourselves to create. But, we don’t just put pressure on ourselves to create. We put pressure on ourselves to create something brilliant.
When we don’t deliver, we let ourselves down.
And, if you are of the Interneting or networking folk, you let others down.
And, suddenly, we are not just artists, but we are normal people playing as artists. We are frauds. We let ourselves fall down a hole so deep we may never recover.
I say that you are an artist because when you were a child you created without thought or self-consciousness. You created whatever you wanted without a frame of reference for what is good and what is bad. You created because your hands willed it, because your imagination begged you to do it. And then you learned what good art is and what bad art is. You learned what makes money and what doesn’t, what is practical and what is weird. You learned too much and created too little.
Forgive me if my words don’t apply to you. But chances are, they do.
Expectation is the death of creativity.
So, I return to my story about the abandoned mansion and my failed attempt to create art.
Let me correct myself – my SECOND failed attempt at creating art.
I dreamed up this series over a year ago out of necessity. I won’t talk about that necessity now. That is for another time. But I knew I had to make it. And as I started to plan, the gravity of the series become too much to bear. I started to grow heavy under it’s weight. My back bowed.
I created, and I failed.
I created again, and I failed.
I felt I should be something different. I felt I should break away from what I’ve always done.
I was guiding my art with logic, when very little art was ever created out of such a space.
I started to believe that simplicity is a tool for mediocre artists. I believed that grand locations and luscious props would elevate my work to a greater height. And once I climbed that latter and saw those locations and gathered those props, the view wasn’t any good at all.
Artists, let me speak to you directly. This is what I now know, what I have failed two times through six pictures and $3,400. Your instincts never create bad art. Your techniques may falter, your vision may not be clear, but your instinct will guide you to the most authentic art you can create. Authenticity is not the same as realism. Authenticity is not the same as groundbreaking. Let us not confuse innovation for authenticity.
Authenticity is our most basic selves, boiled down to our essence. It cannot manifest in any one visual, in any one concept. It is, simply, the heart of our creations, the feeling of our art. Trust in it. Please, trust in it.
My journey through this series has been disheartening at times. I got on this airplane thinking about my failure, thinking about what I could have done differently. But, I know, in that most authentic place that my art comes from, that this week couldn’t have gone any other way. Some people may think I squandered my money away just to play in a mansion. This could not be farther from the truth. What really happened was an artist decided to experiment, and those experiments showed her what her heart would not say loud enough:
You must travel the long road to learn about the world. You must learn about every thorn that sticks in your foot, every wild wind that chills your bones. You must suffer for your art, because the best things are not easy.
And when you finally begin to create what feels right in your heart, you will experience the joy of that long road. Your art will shine with the depth of it.
We are all on a long road. Some are just beginning, others have been stretching on forever. Our demons come to us in many forms. For some of us it is family, for others it is health, for some it is addiction, heartbreak, jealousy, fear, loneliness, inadequacy. They fill that long road with pain, and through it, we search for our joy. Our art. What we make when no one is looking, what we created when we were children and we had no concept of good or bad. That is the manifestation of ourselves, and it is that self that will pull us from the road when we are too beaten to move ourselves.
This series I am creating is emotional for me. It is a painful one to create for many reasons – some personal, some creative – and it is because of that pain that I am gaining the most incredible insight into my joy.
Even as I write this I am unsure of my worth as an artist. I am unsure of if I will ever create anything worthy of my expectations. And, as I write this, I know that expectation is an illusion we create for ourselves because the world has taught us to do so.
When we were too young we drew a picture and someone told us it was amazing. Or, someone told us it was terrible. Or, someone ignored it and we felt the sting of rejection. And we learned, through positive or negative remarks, what was good and what was bad. And we kept those judgments in our hearts and we put those judgments on ourselves and we struggled to create even though we knew the expectation of the world was on our shoulders.
Or, we didn’t create at all. Because the judgment is too much, and we cannot bear it.
I feel the weight of expectation on me today. I feel it lessening as I write this, because we are all of the same flock. You are my people, and you understand what this is like. You are an artist, after all.
Onward, to the next iteration of my series, and onward, to the next manifestation of my artist soul. May it change forever and gain the courage to create no matter the judgment that accompanies it.
And you know what? I’m excited.
What do you think about expectation & creativity?
How do you deal with the pressure to be creative?
Starting August 1st, I will be offering 10 mentoring spaces per month. This includes a 1-page written portfolio review and a 45-minute mentoring session for a value of $150. I am giving away the first space for the mentoring program today!
To enter, comment below with:
1) Any creative blocks you’ve been facing lately, and…
2) How you think this mentoring session will help you.