Do art and do it for the rest of your life

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. – Kurt Vonnegut

This is an except from a letter written by Kurt Vonnegut to the students of Xavier High School in New York in 2006, the year before he died. I stumbled across this the other day as it was making the rounds on G+ and I thought I would share it here with you.


Because there appears to be a fair number of people participating in  social media who would like to make money from their photography, their writings, their blogs or generally from their creative efforts. Personally I don’t blame them and I’ve felt the same way many times. In the overly commercial world that we live in, it feels like the act of being creative isn’t enough. To have our creative accomplishments valued, it seems they also need to have a price tag attached to them. In a commerce based society, the more money something sells for, the more valuable it must be. Its hard to be practicing an art form that is so ubiquitous, like photography, that it’s nearly valueless.

But I wonder if this quest for money and fame (and followers) through toy photography isn’t a red herring.

Money isn’t why we create. Money isn’t what drives us to make interesting images, to tell stories or to elicit an emotional response from our viewers. We go to all this effort because it feels good. Because it enriches our souls. Because it heals the pain. Because it helps us to know ourselves better. Because it helps us to understand the world we live in. Because we want to share a little bit of ourselves with the world. Because we want to make a connection.

Isn’t it enough to practice your photography for no other reason than to make your soul grow?

Even if no one buys one of your images from RedBubble, or asks you to be in a gallery show, or hires you to take photos for their toy marketing campaign, or gives you free toys in exchange for a few photos, or tips you via your Patreon campaign, or backs your Kickstarter or puts a price on your work through some other means…

Remember, what you’re doing is valuable; you’re creating art. Just do it, keep doing it, do it for the rest of your life.

~ Shelly

Why do you take photographs? 

After 30 years as a photographer, photography still holds a magical quality for me. It still takes my breath away when an image come out better than I had envisioned. As an artist, what more could I ask for?


  1. Excellent post Shelly. I’ve never made any money on my photos but I still enjoy doing it 🙂

    The photo that goes with this post is gorgeous! I love the backlighting and the way it makes the red wings glow. Your photos truly are works of art 🙂

    • Lynn, If the truth be told I’ve never made any money off of my photos either. It breaks my heart to see so many people on various social media platforms trying to figure out how to monetize their efforts. After five years of pursuing that false dream, I’m pretty sure it’s not possible. I’m ok with that realization because I really like what I do.

      I’m glad you like this one. It was a fairly random moment (my husband made me get out of the hotel room to enjoy the golden hour) and this image emerged – like magic. I love when that happens. I don’t know if its art, but I love it all the same. 🙂

  2. Great post Shelly! I’ve never given a thought to making money with my photography. I am not formally trained in photography or the arts, it is my little pleasure to try to make a great photo, and strongly stress “TRY”. Toy photography has brought great pleasure mostly due to the community I’ve found here, it’s fun and inspiring to share this hobby with others. I want to keep it that way, no pressure… just go with the flow and enjoy the ride!

    • Margaret – thank you for your comment.The community really is where the ‘payoff’ is. Whenever you attach money to your ‘passion’ or what brings you joy, it changes it. In the case of toy photography, that sort of defeated the purpose. It is a fun and whimsical hobby that should be enjoyed and appreciated for what it is, a break for the crazy world we live in. The results aren’t what matter, it’s the journey. But I’m pretty sure we both know that already. 🙂

  3. fubiken/Stefan.K

    Great post! I’m not in it for the money, I’m into cos I want the images out of my head and do something with them. Could be something silly or something I want to say. I don’t have so many people I know IRL so this is how I expresses myself.

    • Stefan, it’s a wonderful way to express yourself. I think its important that we all have some creative expression. This is far more valuable than the small amount of money that ‘might’ be at stake. Its lego, its photograph, its friendships, its fun!

  4. As always, great post Shelly! And AMAZING photo to accompany it! That lighting (and the way it pours through those wings) is magnificent. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to take a photo with the classic dragons, because I always found them kind of blocky and boring, photographically. But you REALLY made something special here.

    I will admit that I do try selling prints (with middling results), and have often dreamed of making JUST enough money to offset the cost of Lego… but it’s hardly what drives my creative efforts, or is something I actively think about or pursue. And for that, I’m thankful, because it allows me to take photos for ME, and not for the hope of turning it into a career. Mostly, I try to sell prints as just another way to share my photos with the world.

    When I sell a postcard on Redbubble, or a T-shirt on TeePublic, I like to imagine someone getting those items as gifts, or hanging my prints on their walls. Because that’s just one more way I’m somehow bringing joy, humor, or art into someone’s life – which is what we’re all doing this for, isn’t it?

    • James,

      Thank you for your kind words about my dragon photos. I got really lucky with the light, it was an inspired moment. Yes, the dragons are ratty chunky, but after photographing the mini craft figures, they seem to have curves galore!!

      I wish you all the best in your efforts to sell your images. I think its a beautiful thing to make something that some not only wants, but its willing to pay for. Its the ultimate compliment! The flip side of that is that once the money starts coming in from your passion project, it changes the creative process. Now all you think about is the client, the patron, what someone else might want – not what you want to create. Of course there are a few lucky few who can make anything, and people will pay for it, but thats not us. 😀

      Thanks for giving me (us) your perspective James! I appreciate it!


  5. mr.troops

    First of all, wonderful picture! The shadow is perfect. 😀

    I do toyphotography because it is my life.
    I’m happy if in the future I’ll sell postcards of my works to Star Wars fans or LEGO fans.
    I think everyone want to do it, maybe you too.

    And here there are two groups of people you can see on Social Networks.

    The first one is represented by people who just “take” photos, and post them to gain more than 10k followers [*] and then open a small business to sell the works to make money.
    [*] Ghost followers.

    The other one, it is represented by people who want to share their passion, their art, to other artists and compare their ideas, opinions, and advices.
    They are not interested to gain so much followers, but just to share to the world and to their fans, what they can do and what they really love to do.

    I’m in 2nd group.
    What about you? 🙂

    • Mr. Troops,

      I’m in the second group. Why? Surely I’d like to sell a few post cards and make some pin money. But Im realistic and know that what I create isn’t going to be of interest to enough of the photography loving population to make it worthwhile. If you find someone making and selling enough photography to make it worthwhile, please let me know. 😀

      In the meantime, I will continue to create photographs that make me happy. And if I make a few friends along the way, I will be richer for the experience. 🙂

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