Believe in yourself!
Be true to yourself!
You are special!
Find your own true vision and follow it! Take those photos that you see in your head! Those photos that only you can take because you are your own unique individual with your own unique perspective!!
I’ve always liked the quote from the de-motivational poster for Individuality from despair.com:
Always remember that you are unique. Just like everybody else.
I’m tired of all that kind of motivational BS. It all falls right in line with the “American” Dream. Does anyone still believe in that shit?
It’s skewed from the start. We don’t hear from people who’ve failed. We don’t hear them talking about staying true to yourself or staying true to your vision. If we did, their words wouldn’t hold any weight. They failed! They don’t go around blogging about it. And even if they did, would we listen? And yet WE LOVE hearing from ‘successes.’ People who tell us that in order to succeed, we just need to stay true to our own unique visions. We don’t want the truth. We just want hope. And hope without truth…well, that’s just being stupid.
But wait…let’s take Vincent Van Gogh! Arguably the most talented painter ever. He stayed true to his vision! He stuck to his guns and toughed it out! He was a success! Oh wait…that’s right, he was only considered talented after he was dead. And what? Oh right…after he shot himself in the head.
What it comes down to is that being talented with a camera, having great vision, believing in yourself, working your ass off, conducting your business well, being a genius at marketing, doing great post-processing, striving toward a vision…it’s all merely what you need to play the game. Not to win. Just to play. After that comes luck, connections, luck, and did I mention luck?
How many people in life believed in what they did, tried their hardest, and failed? Honestly, I don’t know if we’ll ever know because they’re all either dead or decided to move on rationalizing that either they were mistaken, they didn’t try hard enough, they got screwed by someone else, or something else in life became more important to them. Some of these things may in fact be true, yet it might be that quite simply…talent and hard work aren’t the only things you need to be a success.
I suppose I should make a distinction though. Are you in the world of photography for the business of photography? Or because you’re a photographer? It’s a business vs artist distinction. Can you be both? Sure. I guess.
I get really annoyed at photographers who talk about staying true to one’s artistic vision because it will lead to a successful business. Bullshit! You can look at photography as a business and not care about your artistic vision. You don’t even need one! You can run a successful business without one…how many successful photog businesses are out there that are run by shitty photographers? Tons!
And yet, you can look at photography as a business, not care about your artistic vision, work hard, and then fail. Because it’s not just about hard work. At the same time, you can stay true to your artistic vision and run a great business and be a success. Or you can fail. Business success and failure doesn’t have to do with artistic vision. It’s a separate thing. Sure, they can influence each other, but having one doesn’t necessarily mean a thing for the other.
You want to be a success? Awesome! Welcome to the human race. You want to make lots of money? Do what you need to do. Show up. Play the game. Try to get lucky. Keep trying. The one thing you can be sure of is that if you never try, you WILL fail. So try and keep trying. And maybe you’ll succeed.
Staying true to your artistic vision is an entirely different thing. Don’t do it because it’ll make you successful. There isn’t a guarantee. Decide not to be an artist. Try your best not to care about artistic vision. Despise it. Beat it with a hose. Do everything you can to forget about being artistic. And after you’ve tried your best, if you find that you still care…that this artistic vision haunts you…then I’m sorry, but you’re an artist. And you shouldn’t stay true to your vision for “success.” You should stay true to your vision because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what you need to do. There is no choice. Success or failure, there is no choice. Your vision will lead you where it may.
But don’t go on and cheapen what it means to be an artist by associating it with some monetary reward. Will people appreciate your artistry? Maybe. Maybe not. Should that mean anything to you as a photog business? Maybe. Probably. Should that mean anything to you as an artist? Absolutely not.
Note of emphasis: Seriously, do your absolute best to avoid being driven by artistic vision. You WILL be criticized and you WILL be disheartened. You’ll have your spirits crushed and you won’t survive unless you’re somewhat crazy or feel that you have no choice in the matter…that your vision leaves you with no choice. And if you aren’t criticized or disheartened, you need to seriously wonder why not…meaning you need to ask yourself if your art is lame. If it is, beat it with a shovel.
I am extremely glad that I came to photography through the world of poetry. Poetry taught me many lessons that I think a lot of my photog peers are now struggling with. I feel a bit ahead of the game. (Which is a bit odd since I always felt behind in the game when it came to poetry.) Here’s a poem that taught me a lot.
by WS Merwin
I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war
don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity
just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice
he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally
it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop
he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England
as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry
he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
If you find that you seek approval of your artistic vision, whether it be through financial success or however else, realize that your art is no longer guided by artistic vision. It’s guided by artistic vanity. Not even arrogance. At least arrogance is about you as an artist. Vanity is about fear of the opinion of others. You’re a tool for critics.
There’s nothing wrong with running a successful photog business and making decisions based on practical reasoning. But don’t you dare mix up an idea of artistry or artistic vision in it and think it has something to do with success. True thinkers and artists have been mistreated and ridiculed for centuries. And you think you’re different? Times may have changed a lot, but humanity hasn’t.
So go out there and kick ass.
I wish you luck.
Did I mention luck?