I am a selfish artist. I have no problem admitting that, as well as the ways in which I am selfish.
- I create for myself. I am interested in satisfying my curiosity.
- I create by myself. I like to work alone.
- I create because I love to test my potential.
- I create I hope people will like what I contribute to the world.
Up until a certain point, those were my reasons for creating. I started noticing a pattern in how I was working. I was rushing to get an image finished, excited to see the finished product, ignoring the idiosyncratic pieces of the process. I was addicted to sharing.
When that realization hit me, I had to take a step back from what I was doing. I realized just how un-lasting that finished product truly is. It may stand the test of time, or it may be gone with a hard drive crash. It may be remembered in museums or forgotten in a matter of days. Once you finish your art, it is released. It is not yours to control, it is for the public (if, of course, you are sharing your art at all). What remains, despite anything, is the process.
That was when I began thinking about CREATION in a different way from CREATING.
One puts emphasis on the product, the other on the action.
In no way do I think it is bad to enjoy the product of your efforts. You should.
ART SHOULD BE SELFISH.
But, what about cherishing the in-between? What about the moments, minutes, hours, days, months, years it takes to create your art? As time moves on, even the mundane experiences build up to influence what you create and how you create it.
How often do you find yourself rushing through the creating process to get to the creation? I’ve done it hundreds of times. Hundreds. I’ve rushed through thinking deeply, rushed through creating with care, overlooked editing mistakes, and all so I could congratulate myself for making something. Tangible. Physical. Finished.
What an error in my judgment these years past. What an error in my life.
Over the past nine months I’ve been planning a new photo series. For most of that time I didn’t have a single vision that stuck, not a single sketch made that would lead to something finished. It scared me. I felt like a fraud. I felt like a lair of an artist. I felt like an imposter.
I mean, look at the facts. I am an artist who has created quickly, churning out a lot of work in short periods of time. I became addicted to the pace, to the praise, to the CREATION. It was time to learn how to love CREATING.
So I had a talk with myself. It went something like this:
Brooke (Subconscious): Slow down. Let’s take a while to think through what you need to say as an artist.
Brooke (Conscious): Nope. Let’s make something every single day to prove my worth as an artist.
Brooke (Subconscious): Wouldn’t you rather find your worth by creating meaningful art?
Brooke (Conscious): Nope.
It was somewhere around month 5 of thinking about my new series and coming up empty that I had a breakdown. I felt like such a failure as an artist. I felt I had let myself down.
What I had really done was let myself go.
I let go of the artist I was.
I let go of the expectation I put on myself.
I let go of the expectation I felt from others.
And I opened my mind to the idea that thinking is an art form in itself. That being with my thoughts and letting them play their course is just as valuable, and often more so, than churning out work.
That was when my mindset changed. I no longer wanted a CREATION, I wanted to CREATE. I have never felt more clear in my intent, more centered in my message, more secure in myself as an artist.
Do you create for the product or for the experience?
(This is a really difficult one to admit.)
How do you see yourself as an artist?
Stacy Honda - Hi Brooke! This is interesting to think about. I definitely love to see a vision that was in my head on the screen in front of me (though I keep trying to learn, so I always want to go back and change something). And I start to worry when I haven’t made a finished product in a while. I’m not sure why. I guess I feel like time is passing me by and I haven’t done so many things that I want to do. Or something like that : ). If I’m working on something that is meaningful to me, I find the shooting process can be very therapeutic.Trying to capture certain feelings. And I have discovered recently that one thing I really love about the process is the problem solving. Not knowing how the heck I’m going to put something together, and then making it happen. I get a big thrill from that : ) Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but that’s ok!
Bill - I love your work. However, I feel you over think what you are doing. When I pick up my camera and go out to take pictures I don’t think of myself as a photographer or artist. I think what looks good today. Are the roses in bloom or is the sun back lighting a fern. I started taking photos with a Kodak 35mm camera about 60 years ago. Over the years I just took photos of what I liked. For a year I worked for a sign company and photographed their products with a 4X5 camera. That was very focused because the owner did not want to enlarge or shrink the images. When I came back from Desert Storm I went to collage and took three grad level photo seminar classes. During that time I did a series of female nude studies in B&W. What’s the bottom line? As you think about doing new a series start pulling together elements that you find interesting. Don’t try to design the final product. Let the elements you pull together determine where you are going. For example you might find a location that you fall in love with. Visit often and study it. Let’s say there’s a tree that leans through the site. Study how the light plays around the tree. Then, let’s say, you see something at a flea market. How does that fit in. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, it is what you see that speaks to you. Don’t get hung up creating–you are creative, just let it flow. Don’t be afraid of changing what you are doing because something new pops up. Just because it doesn’t work the first time doesn’t mean you are a failure–it just means you need to keep moving forward. As I look at your work I like the bare foot outdoor organic images the most. I think that is a direction you should keep following. Keep up the good work. Thank you.
Norma - This is why I hardly ever make the deadlines when I join challenges. I don’t just want to share images that arn’t really finished. It takes a long time for me to create. But.. I do understand the great feeling of sharing. I guess that’s also part of the “like addiction” social media gives us. It’s a reaction of our brain, we can’t help it. I have to stop myself often if I want to rush and share an image I made. Then I think about what’s it all about? A few likes or do I make something I want to create for myself? That helps me to slow down to my own pace. The thinking and investigating proces is very important and joyable for me. I recognize your points being a selfish artist.. It’s what I am too. Love your idea for the Greek refugees, keep up the good work. You may be a selfish artist but you are certainly not a selfish person. big hug from Norma
Gallagher - I think I creat for the quality of the work, but it is also a little hard to know. This may be how I see it. But I can be a real perfectionist in my art, so that helps. I do consider myself an artist.
Great post, good luck on your new series, I know it will be great!
Cindy - Wow, that is a really tough question. I have always thought I was enjoying the act of creating, but perhaps I have been deceiving myself. I am not sure, but I do know I enjoy experimenting with lots of ideas, techniques, etc. I let my muse decide what I am going to do each day without overthinking it too much. I love the spontaneity of that. But maybe I need to be more grounded. I have pondered the way I create art a million times, but that is something I think I need to let go of as well. My spiritual teacher says we think too much, so now I take a step back and just enjoy whatever shows up in my daily activities and refrain from judging it. For me, I just keep my eye on the bigger picture and I often see my life unfolding in the direction of where I am focused. I like Dr Martin Luther King’s quote: “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” I think that is difficult for a lot of artists because we naturally want to see that what we are doing is making a difference. It can be difficult to keep going down the path day after day, often blindly. Thank you for asking the big questions, it helps me evaluate the “why.”
Sara - In this age of instant gratification, it’s hard to take a step back and reflect on what is truly meaningful….especially for people like you who have such a dedicated group of followers. Being true to yourself is an important “rule” for all of us to remember. I think all creative people have an ebb and flow and shouldn’t try to force things.
Turla Peterson - Hi Brooke, interesting question you posted. Last year when I started to follow you and do composite images I had such a hard time coming up with the concept and how to do it. So I decided this year I will started taking pictures what ever comes in my mind and play with it in the computer. I would say that I create for the product as well as for the experience. I am very very happy when things all comes together like what I thought it would be. I feel very proud and accomplished.The feeling of seeing what I have imagine is second to none and no one can explain it but me. Shooting every day is starting to give a toll on me. After I shoot, I go to my computer and started working on it. Sometimes I spend all day just sitting on the computer trying to figure out how and how, and more how to make it. I decided to shoot and only work on an image twice a week to get more time to recollect and gather my thoughts. Like what you have said, I need to slow down to really take time to think the concept and the idea, not just making it and then share.
Anastasia - Hey Brooke, when I read your blog post just now….I just had to tell you that I felt the same about my work.
Over the 3 years of creating, that was what I was doing. More so last year. I wanted to test shoot all the time, often 3 test shoots every week so that I can post and gain exposure or some sort of validation.
When I went to France for a 10 day holiday, I got honest with myself and re-prioritised what I wanted to do this year and ask myself why I am creating ? Is all this stress of doing loads of tests to prove to the world that I’m good at what I do is worth it ? The fact that I hope that some of the images might make it onto a models Comp card, why is this so important ? Why am I trying to compete ? I wasn’t seeing that the model wasn’t suited to the concept, the styling was bad and realised it after post production, the lighting etc etc. I got addicted to posting quickly and not caring about the process or before that. Really creating something awesome and taking the time to bring it to fruition.
This year I decided to take breaks off Instagram and shoot once or twice month.
I’m a selfish artist too.
Thank you for sharing Brooke. Thank you also for inspiring me when I first started out as a self portrait artist x
Deb - What a crazy life you live. Love it and love you.
I like creating for fun. Some days I wish I had a photography business, but the pressure to live off that, stresses me out. I am loving a new creative process for me right now, making decorations for Post Prom for my senior baby boy.
Ruth - Hi Brooke,
I create to prove myself that my thoughts are meaningful. Of course I love to hold the “product” in hands and show it around. Of course I love the applause. But most of all I love to see how I change through my art. It makes me stronger (no, wrong, I make myself stronger). It leads to a better versio of myself. Does that make sense? :o)
Sweet smiles from Germany,
Mumbi - Thank you for this blog post, I think that these are the hard questions that we should always be asking ourselves, how Elise shall we grow.
create to see my creation, I have it my head and I add to it as time passes and I have these wonderful aha moments as I am driving and I want to see it. I create it in my mind and want to see it and show it. I have the experience in my heart and head, now I want to produce. I am still learning so I know that I need to be patient and allow my ability to produce to connect with my vision.
Shelby Leeman - Hi Brooke! After years of lacking any creative inspiration, I’m trying to really expand my horizons. But it is still a struggle as I overthink every aspect of my work – usually focusing on what is wrong with it vs what I did right. Since I’d describe myself as unforgiving, I’d say I create for the brief sense of satisfaction (before I tear the piece apart). The fact that I am capable of pushing beyond the boundaries of these walls I’ve built…well it provides me with a great sense of pride. Currently I don’t see myself as an artist but as a student. I’m taking my expertise in photo editing and attempting to find a sense of purpose.
Michael Snively - As an artist, one of our greatest challenges is to find a balance between these two aspects; creation and creating. Or as I refer to them as creativity and the artifact (with its rewards). This oscillation is part of the angst we live with all the time. Is the artifact and it’s rewards more important than our creativity? For myself the creativity is more important, yet to find some balance I have found the need for some feedback. To usually get the feedback you need to have a product, or artifact to share. Sort of a catch 22… Maybe in the long run, it is more important to live a creative life being true to our soul and spirit as artist!
Brooke, the hardest part is finding that balance, and maybe slowing down a bit so that we truly see. Thanks for everything you do! The art, the charity, the teaching, the community awareness, and for just being you!
Leesa Voth - As a musician, the totality of my life experience as an artist has been the creation of intangible musical experiences, rather than physical products. I have worked hour upon hour, most times alone, for decades, practicing my craft for all the reasons you have listed in your blog post. My deep internal motivation for performing music has been for my own personal experience, even if I have served others graciously with my art. Is this selfish? Yes, in all the best ways. I love playing music, I do it for my own pleasure, and when I decide to share it with others, I create an experience for them as well. In fact, I believe our obligation as artists is to perform for our own personal experience. This will make our art truly authentic. The outcomes of that follow naturally. You will know when it is the right time to share, if even at all. Authenticity is not a race, it is a way of life, and so should your art be.
Roberto Melendez - Hi Brooke, Thank you for your thoughts! As a weekend oil painter your words struck a cord. Since the 1980’s I always painted for myself, partly because I really never thought anyone would enjoy something that was so personal to me. Partly also because I’m an introvert and exposing myself , I thought , would be a horror. When I finally started showing my work, I liked the attention……and then came the failure. I found myself trying to produce what I thought people would like and did it quickly…..fail, fail, fail….did I say Fail! Stopped my art in its track! I knew it! I am an imposter! Were the words that circulated in my head. It took me a few years to get back on the saddle and not because I thought it out but because I needed to create. I didn’t know it till now, but now that you mentioned it , I am too a selfish artist, I create because I need too, for myself, at my pace and I love it. One of my cousins who is also a painter came over one day and exclaimed, “you have been working on that small piece for a month!” My reply was “Yes, going as planned!” He just shook his head, Lol. I still show my art, but don’t care who likes it! I think when your art is honest and true to you, there will always be someone who identifies with it. I will tell you that I’m very excited that I discovered you on CL. Love your work and your teaching! Having so much fun combining my painterly skills with my photography and I’m being selfish about it!
Freedom - So glad I found you <3
Stephan Pawloski - As I re-read this, I wondered, is this getting stuck, failing, battling the fraud police in our heads, is all of this maybe part of what becomes our foundational life experience so that we may in fact create art?
Maude - Thank you for this post. I think I started to make art because I liked creating. I think we all start like this. Then, somewhere along the way with the praises of other I think I started to make creations instead of creating. It is a long road to learn to create and love again. Right now I experiment with working slower and not showing what I do right away. Keep speaking, keep creating. Maude
Amelia McLeod - Hi Brooke,
i always love reading your words, i find them inspirational and very thought provoking. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about my own process when you asked the question, but, I am day 332 of a 365 day project which I started with naivety 332 days ago. It is getting hard to create for creativity sake, and I keep finding my ideas are getting bigger, requiring more thought and time. But I am ignoring them for the quick fix solution.Some days I am very lazy, some days I spend hours perfecting the image. some days I wish I could say I was a “sellout”, but to be honest I don’t think I figured out the Indtagram world very well, and still don’t have a great nu,her of followers. But it did teach me something. As much as I would love the accolades and following (doesn’t it make us all feel better), and I still have thoughts like, “why didn’t my image get more likes? It’s better than that one….”, it has toaught me that when one person tells you that you are an inspiration to them, it makes it all worthwhile.
You are an inspiration to me, thank you. Amelia