I confess I’ve been watching documentaries again. This one was about Werner Herzog and his epic struggle to complete his movie Fitzcarraldo. The documentary, Burden of Dreams, concerns a movie maker on a seemingly Sisyphean task who’s main character is on a similar, nearly impossible task.
As Werner Herzog is talking about his project, after hitting the umpteenth major snag, he said the following:
“If I abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams and I don’t want to live like that.”
The above quote really struck home.
It is good to remember that dreams are a burden. They ask much of us; sometimes too much. But like Mr. Herzog you have to keep going, no matter how tough it gets. You have to nurture your projects and the dreams they come from. It doesn’t matter if success or failure await you; living without dreams would be a very bleak existence.
Have you ever though about quitting?
If so, what kept you going?
I had the pleasure of watching this documentary film recently and I wanted to share it with you. During the 15 years that The Photo League of New York existed, they nurtured, celebrated and discussed some of the greatest photographers of the day. This documentary is a veritable who’s who of photographers who were practicing at the time. These are people who wanted to change the world through there photographs. They wanted to make a difference and for the most part they were successful.
I urge you to take a look at the trailer and hopefully find the time to watch the whole film. It is good to know the historic foundations of your passion. Many of the figures discussed in this documentary I knew of from my own photo history classes. It was inspiring to hear them discussed in context of The Photo League and it also gave me fresh perspective on this important stage of photography’s history.
I can relate to +Me2 and his Sunday Painter plight. I am not sure any of us has the stamina or the time to create meaningful art on a daily basis. It is so much easier to do the laundry, cook a meal, play video games or any of the thousands of distractions we encounter daily.
Before anyone gives up on this so called battle lets talk about what creating art on a full time basis looks like. Because sometimes I think people have a grander notion of what being an artist is. What it’s not: painting every day in your studio, listening to classical music while your faithful cat keeps you company (or insert personal fantasy of your choice here). What it can look like is thinking about what you want to make, planning out your image, gathering supplies and props and sketching some ideas in a work book. Often it means simply staying caught up on what’s going on in your field, understanding the changing marketplace and researching the past. Day to day tasks often involve organizing work, matting final images, networking, bookkeeping, meetings, phone calls and e-mails like any other grunt worker.
Finding success in the market place is a mixed blessing. The process of creating and selling the same old same old that pays the bills can be a soul deadening experience. For most artists creating new, exciting and challenging work on a regular basis is the exception. In a way relegating them back into the category of the “Sunday Painter”.
For the working artist (or the Sunday Painter) the greatest luxury is creating art that inspires you.
What does your perfect artist life loo like?
I chose this image by +Gordon Webb to illustrate another time suck that is a big part of our weird Stuckinplastic world,,,forever sorting.
Did you take the time to listen to the TED talk suggested by +Me2 yesterday? I did and I was mildly amused by Sting and his talk. Maybe I was not as taken by it as Me2, but that can be explained by the fact I was also working.
I think it is important to realize that every artist struggles with the artistic process. No matter if you are a multi platinum musician who makes enough off his royalties to live in a chateau and grow his own grapes or the beginning photographer. The creative issues are the same if not the income stream.
So, yes we are all in similar (I will never say: “the same”) boats. The goal is to make relevant art that speaks to who ever might view, listen or read our creative works. There is no magic formula to success, I wish there was. But I do know that if you speak from the heart and are true to your own voice you will make a connection with your audience.
I think it was interesting that Sting had to go back to his roots, the ones he had been denying, to find the motivation and his voice again. Sometimes you have to go to the dark places, the places you want to avoid to do the work that needs to be done. I think the trick is to take your viewers on your journey with you, but still allow them to find themselves in what you are saying. To be personal, but still universal.
By creating honest work we will find ourselves a little closer to the answers and hopefully maintain our inspiration.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I leave you with a song by one of the bands that has inspired me the most: Cloud Cult. They managed to take a personal tragedy and create some of the most beautiful music while working through the pain. Craig Minowa is a testament to the “Art Saves Lives” motto. Remember: no one ever said this would be easy.
I don’t think there is any skill harder to develop than the ability to stay motivated. No matter what you are doing, taking photographs, building your latest MOC or writing the next great novel, staying motivated is hard.
It’s easy to get distracted by day to day obligations, or worse yet just quitting altogether, because creating art is hard. But there is a trick to not quitting, make friends with people who share your passion. Surround yourself with supportive excited people who like to do what you do. Get together on a regular basis and share what you’ve been working on. Geek out, it’s fun!
I know that toy photography is a rather specialized photo niche and Instagram can be a great substitute for a local photo club. It can function like the most amazing and supportive group of fellow photographers you could ever hope for. Plus by getting in the habit of posting once a day, every other day or whatever you can commit to, you will be getting better just by shooting consistently. It is also a great place to make friends who share your passion for toy photography.
So get out there and shoot some photos with your camera, your phone, your fancy DSLR…it doesn’t matter what the photo looks like. Some days your photos will be awesome, other days, not so much. It goes with the territory. Post your photo to Instagram, get some feed back and do it again tomorrow. It’s doing the work that is important. Of course the real fun begins when you look back over your feed and see how much you have grown.
And THAT will feel much better than quitting.
Do you find it hard to stay motivated?
How do you stay motivated?
While you are trying to figure out what European City +Me2 is currently in, I want to distract you with a book recommendation:
Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orlando.
I read this book many years ago and it was helpful when I hit a few creative rough patches. I thought I would give it a read again and see if it could shed some light on many of the creative concerns I hear mentioned by my friends on Instagram. Ideas like motivation, inspiration, talent and approval to name just a few of the common themes I hear mentioned in one way or another.
After the first page, after just the first paragraph, I wanted to scream out: THIS IS IT! I don’t know how I can express to you how good it feels to read this book. It is like having your favorite, trusted art teacher tell you all your fears and doubts are ok, that we all have them. It is normal.
Since I know you are not convinced, here are a few quotes from the first pages to tantalize you:
”Artmaking involves skills that can be learned. The conventional wisdom here is that while ‘craft’ can be taught, ‘art’ remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so.” Art and Fear, page 3.
”Even talent is rarely indistinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work.” Art and Fear, page 3.
”You learn how to make your work by making your work … art you care about — and lots of it!” Art and Fear, page 6.
Pleas don’t be dissuaded from this book by the word “Art”. It is relevant to anyone who is trying to be creative, no matter if you are a painter, a jeweler, a musician or a writer. The observations in this book are for everyone who wants to be creative. So I beg you, plead with you, to go to your local book store and grab a copy of this work of sheer genius. Trust me.
If you have read this book did you find it helpful?
Are there any other books you would like to recommend that helped you with your artistic doubts?
Today I felt like Angry Unikitty for much of the day. Whenever I feel like this I’m tempted to post cutting remarks on various social media platforms but then I remember the immortal words of Mark Twain…
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Words to live by.
Have you ever posted something you regretted to a social media site?
Have you ever read something posted by someone else that really pissed you off?
Do you try to be a positive influence on social media sites or just speak your mind?
This week has been filed with lost opportunities, missed connections and course corrections…or as I like to say, business as usual.
All of this made me think back to the book Steal Like and Artist and one of its more accurate diagrams.
I have had countless ideas that I have thought: “Eureka, this is going to be awesome!” And then as I start to face the difficulties of bringing my fantasies into the realm of concrete, ugly reality will hit. Yup, making art is never a pretty or an easy road.
This diagram is also a good representation for life, never quite as great as you imagined it could be, but not quite as bad as you feared.
So when you face your next creative crisis know we have all been there and it’s ok, this too shall pass.
You don’t take a photograph, you make it. – Ansel Adams
This quote applies to the entire photographic process; from clicking the shutter, to editing the photo, to printing it out. The simple act of choosing an image to work on is part of the process. Each conscious choice you make determines the final outcome.
I prefer to do this the hard way. I tend to edit my photos twice, once using Snapseed for future Instagram posts and once using Photoshop for printing. I really enjoy using Instagram as a photo sketchpad. I like to test photo concepts and play with editing techniques all the while trying not to get too caught up in my head. When I want to print an image out on paper, I turn to Photoshop for more traditional photo editing.
When I am editing in Photoshop I want to try to capture what I created with my quick Snapseed edits. Of course when I write this out, this process seems totally ass backwards to me. Here I am with my big fancy camera and my big fancy printer and I’m trying to capture the quick, grungy spontaneity of an iPhone picture edited with Snapseed.
Needless to say this has been a challenge. This past weekend I had the most fun with my experimentations, but for all the wrong reasons. The filters I downloaded to play with are designed to emulate film stock. After applying them to my images I discovered something I have not seen in years…film grain! I forgot how much I missed film grain. In this age of digital images and pixillation, film grain is a thing of the past. But for me it was always an important part of my final images. When I enlarged my underwater images to 40″ x 30″ (that’s really, really large) the grain was so pronounced the photos became similar to a pointillism painting. I was so happy to make this discovery, it was like coming home again.
So needless to say I can’t wait to re-edit a few classic images with these new filters, add some grain and blow the best images up really, really large.
What was your happiest accident?
What is your editing workflow?
Sometimes I want to just pull a Vivian Maier and take a million photographs and never do anything with them. Just take the photos, nothing more. There is nothing so satisfying or glorious as the physical act of taking a photo.
For me the processing, editing and printing is a one long down hill slide.
My husband is always telling me I take too many photos. Or maybe I just post too many? He says I am too prolific and so will never be able to sell my work because there is no scarcity. Maybe this is true? I don’t really know.
But I do know that taking them is were all the fun is, everything else after that is just work.
I think Vivian Maier was on to something.
While I continue to mull this over, I have some pictures I want to post to the internet.
When was the last time you actually enjoyed taking a photograph?
How much effort do you put into promoting your work?
If you have not checked out the story of Vivian Maier I urge you to do so. It is an amazing story of a nanny living in Chicago around 1950 who shot 1,000’s of photographs and never developed them. They were essentially discovered by accident in 2007 after she died.