On Creativity, Perspective, and Acceptance

dscf0125

I have a young, beautiful, talented friend who is working towards a career as a full time creative, and who recently expressed frustration over where she was with her career versus where she wanted to be.  I get this.  It is so easy to feel like you are behind the 8 ball when you don’t get the gig after an audition you thought went well, or when you see others on social media living the life you want to live.

This is a common theme:  In this day and age of social media we are inundated with information;  it only takes 60 seconds to jump on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and see someone having huge success, showing off new equipment, talking about their latest travels, the new gig they got, or being liked and followed by tens of thousands of people.  It is so easy to compare our own lives to this and feel like we are coming up short.  It is easy to become jealous and then to let that jealousy guide our actions.  I see this a lot in the photography world.  If you pick an immensely popular photographer, I will show you 100 people copying that person’s style in an effort to re-create that person’s success for themselves.  This is a trap.  These feelings can get even more magnified because we are really comparing our day to day lives to someone else’s highlight reel.  I know a lot of people who are extremely popular on social media, and I can say that in many cases their day to day lives differ quite a bit from what they choose to show on social media.

Then, there are the times when you put yourself out there, only to encounter the inevitable internet troll or person who begrudges you your success, and who goes out of their way to let you know about it.  It is amazing how one negative comment can decimate that feeling of success you were having… if you let it.

I suspect all creatives go through this.  Heck, I suspect all people go through this.  No one is immune really.

Speaking personally, I have had huge successes in my life in almost every endeavour I have pursued.  By all accounts I am successful in my photographic pursuits:  I am an official brand ambassador for a company I love working with.  I have the joy of presenting and teaching.  I have the honour of photographing weddings and working with other clients, and I have wonderful conversations every day with people I respect from around the world that I know through social media.

Perspective is everything though, and one of the funny things about perspective is that it can easily be lost.  And, when it is, it is so easy to go astray.

Do you see that photo at the top of this post?  99% of the time I feel like the rocks on the left are where I started, the buoy in the water is me and the rocks on the right represent my photographic destination (my creative and business goals).   Like you see in the photo, I currently feel like I am about a third of the way to where I want to be, but I know I will get there because I am passionate about my craft and I am determined.

Sometimes though, rarely, I feel more like that buoy (me) is just floating and getting bashed about in the waves.  I feel lost, and I tend to struggle to regain focus.  This is where it becomes dangerous.  It happens to everyone from time to time, you just don’t see the struggle posted on their social media that often.

Recently, ironically enough during a period where things were going extremely well for me, I went through this exact thing:   A good friend had huge success with a project.  This is a project that I was also given the opportunity to do, but which I passed on due to life circumstances at the time.  When my friend was experiencing their success I should have been happy for him, yet instead I felt jealousy.  And, once I felt it, it started derailing my other efforts.

At the same time, I had a negative experience with a couple of internet trolls.  For clarity, I usually just shake my head with a smile when I encounter negative people.  I spent 20 years on an ambulance as a paramedic, responding to about 15,000 911 calls, and I know better than most what real problems are.   I think there are few things in life that give you perspective on what really matters like working as a paramedic does because of the hurt, confusion and fear you see in people.  Negative comments also usually don’t bother me because it is a truth that when you put yourself out in the public’s eye you are going to encounter people with many different points of view, including negative ones.  The first thing I do when I get negative feedback from people is to follow this advice:

“Consider the motivation of the person who is giving you the feedback:  Are they sincerely trying to help you?  If so, then think about what they are saying.  Or, are they just trying to get under your skin?  If that is the case, simply ignore it”.

This almost always works for me, but for some reason it didn’t this time.

All of a sudden, just like that, I found myself derailed for a day or two.  Derailed by jealousy over a friend’s success (how crazy is that), derailed by a sense of not being far enough down my path, and derailed by some unknown person on the internet who doesn’t agree with my work and my thoughts (and who went out of their way to let me know about it).

Stupid, right?  Stupid, but also human as some very good friends pointed out (thank you Patrick and Valerie).

Why am I sharing this?  Because I want my friend, this brilliant and talented young actress, to know that she isn’t alone when she feels like this.  We all feel like this from time to time, just not everyone talks about it.  Success is really an iceberg.  On the surface you see the rewards and accolades, but underneath it is nothing but blood, sweat, failure, hard work, frustration, set backs, disappointment, and resistance.

So what do we do, as creatives, to get out of these funks we occasionally find ourselves in?

The first thing has to be to regain perspective.  Step back, step away, re-connect with family and friends.  We need to remind ourselves of what really matters in life, and to remind ourselves that happiness is intrinsically driven.  We own it.   We have the ability to create it, and others can only destroy it if we allow them to.

And, as I was recently reminded by my friend Patrick Laroque, we need to create art.  Not art guided by what we think others want to see, not art guided by trends, not art created to satisfy the needs of the internet and social media, and not art to further our business pursuits.

We just need to create art.  For ourselves, because that’s what we do.

The only way to truly be satisfied as an artist is to create for the sake of creating.  Create art for no other reason than we love the process.  Create art because it brings us joy, and create without giving a sh*t about what other people think about it.

If I consider all of my successes, I achieved them because I was being true to myself.  I created and shared work I was happy with and some people responded to it.  That is where we need to keep our focus, because that is the path to being happy and feeling satisfied as artists (if artists can ever truly be satisfied).  If you chase trends you are selling yourself out.  When you purposely edit your photographs to look like today’s popular artist, when you become photographers of a certain genre because it is currently popular, or when you connect with people on social media for no reason other than they are the “cool kids” and represent where you want to be you are only setting yourself up for failure in the long run.

So, to my brilliant friend I say just continue to create art that makes you happy.  Put it out into the world and don’t worry about what other people are doing, just be the 5 year old with the box of crayons and make art because you love it.  If you remain true to yourself you will find satisfaction as an artist and, when the time is right, people who respect and are aligned with your vision will also find you.  Trust the process, as it is really the only true option.  Everything else is just chasing the rabbit down the hole for all the wrong reasons.

Just my two cents.

Cheers,

Ian

32 thoughts on “On Creativity, Perspective, and Acceptance

  1. Peter Morris says:

    Well written article Ian. You must always believe in yourself, no matter what you are trying to achieve. However, the trick is to achieve this without appearing to be somewhat arrogant to other people.

    As for social media, just leaves me completely cold. I have no time for “social media”, quite frankly, I see it very much as “emporer’s clothes” syndrome. A lot of it is complete bullshit, and I very much worry about people who are both intimidated and worried that they might appear to be missing out on something, whatever that something is.

    Be true to yourself, believe in yourself, and make real friends with real people, instead of trying to score points on social media. I love your photos, and passion for what you do, so keep up the good work Ian. A long rant, but that’s how I feel. On the subject of photography, I think it is very much a personal hobby, I do it to please myself, not other people, but still wanting to improve over time.

    Cheers, Peter

  2. Eduardo Mendoza says:

    This post is so full of sincerity and wisdom! Trying the hardest to remain true to oneself and create what really comes from our soul is the only reason to live fully. The not so good part is when there is a deep need of money to survive, then, the true talent that resides inside suffers and gets lost and wasted, even when one really has the talent to create something worthy for ourselves and the world. Thanks so much for your reflections!!

  3. Jan Sears says:

    Ian, thank you for this. I just spent two days in a Magnum workshop with some of the brightest most articulate artists I have ever met. 30 of us showed our work and listened to editors and pro photogs how we can improve not only our work but our vision. ( I will blog about it in the next few days) It was the most positive experience of my artistic life. The take away was if the Why comes from your heart not your head, success will come. You can’t fake heart and truth. The Why we shoot is the key. No one else, no comments, no images from others , can rob that from you as long as you stay the course. Follow your heart. Pick projects that mean something to you that you are emotionally invested in. The output will show your love of the art. Thank you for your comments. Means a lot as I look to you, my fellow paramedic, for solid wisdom just like this.

    Cheers, Jan

    • Ian says:

      Many thanks Jan, that workshop sounds like an awesome experience! Looking forward to connecting when I am down there.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  4. ben says:

    Well said! True words as it is easy to look to others for the right path to follow but I never done things the easy way. Hopefully I will find a path that fits.

  5. Dara says:

    Ian,
    Your warmth, good humour and contribution to the photo community at large are so excellent. Love your work and appreciated your words here very much.

    • Ian says:

      Wow, many thanks for those kind words Dara. I love contributing to this community, and I’ve gotten so much back in return.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  6. Joshua Simmons says:

    A spot on and insightful post, Sir. I, being very new to photography, have found myself far too often becoming bogged down with the ideal of where I want to be creatively. So much so that it at times stifles the joys and pains of the process of becoming a sincere artist. I greatly appreciate the wisdom in your words and honesty in your post.

    Blessings to you,
    Joshua

  7. anangelsshareblog says:

    Great stuff, Ian. I am a photographer, writer, creative and creative coach/retreat and workshop leader and this falls right in line with my philosophy and what I try to teach. Well done, friend. Stay at it and continue to inspire. Cheers!

  8. Francesco Rodda says:

    Thank you!
    These words should be re-read every time you lose your way and the meaning of life, not only artistic talent or inspiration.
    Unfortunately with social does it compare with others, but often with reality. You want to be different or to have something different and from there it’s all downhill.

  9. Greg Wynn says:

    Great article
    When I decided to get back into photography a few years ago I went down the DSLR track, joined a camera club, started entering competitions. As my photos started doing better in the competitions I became increasingly bored with my photography and the resulting photos. Eventually I realised that I was producing what the judges and others wanted not what I wanted myself.
    Recently I bought a second hand (but well looked after) X100. The joy of photography as a journey started coming back to me, I was moving my feet, twiddling dials and thinking about the shots as I wanted them. I am now moving back a minimalist approach which to me should maximise the pleasure. At 59 I finally feel like the 5 year old with the crayons again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s