Let me open with a process you are probably all too familiar with:
Artist gets an idea. Artist is so so happy about said idea. Artist takes that idea and tries to make it into something. Artist spends a lot of time with that idea, and…sometime during the process, Artist decides his work is stupid and why did he even try it in the first place. Then, Artist gets on social media and types out a tweet about how his project isn’t working.
This Artist labels it with something like #RelatableArtistStruggles, or #LookingforInspirationButCantFindIt.
Artist, then, spends a lot of time wondering if he’s really, truly an artist
If you’ve stuck with me this long, you know social media has been a big, big part of this series. And I’m probably going to keep talking about it, because it infiltrates nearly every corner of our lives. There’s a lot of artists hating on themselves and their creativity – and they use the online world to do it.
One of the reasons why I think we do this is because it makes us feel better when other people respond with, oh my gosh, I relate so hard. There’s a kind of connection and fame that comes with writing about how horrible and hard creativity is. You don’t often see artists writing about how they find joy in their work, because really, who relates to that?
In short: #WriterProblems is far more likely to get re-tweeted, than #WriterVictories.
When I was just starting photography, I didn’t really understand how valuable it is to love your own work. I didn’t think my photography was any good because I didn’t have fancy equipment (that’s a whole other discussion right there). I had to learn the hard way. So instead of going out and taking photos, I would spend hours researching great photographers and camera models. I bookmarked photographer blogs. I envied photographers who bought their first DSLRs at thirteen, traveled with their model friends, and got 15.5k likes on Instagram.
Yeah, I’m really glad I don’t do that anymore.
I remember stumbling across one photographer on Instagram. At the top of her feed were great photos. But as I scrolled down, I realized that she hadn’t always taken great photographs. Her earlier ones were nothing to be recognized. The editing wasn’t natural, the composition didn’t catch my eye. They were clearly beginner’s work. This shouldn’t have surprised me, and it didn’t, really.
Instead, I was surprised that she, seeing where she is now, would still leave those “beginner photos” on her profile. I was shocked that she didn’t just delete them, because they represented that time when she was learning and figuring things out, and didn’t know what she was doing.
how can she live with the fact that these photos are still online? I thought, why doesn’t she delete them?
But I had been looking at her photography the wrong way. I compared her work then, to what it is now, and failed to realize that she had once loved those “beginner photos”. She loved them enough to share them on Instagram, and that’s exactly what she did. Those photos, back then, were the best she had to offer. They were not as good as the photographs she takes now, because she has learned. She learned to take better ones.
I’m really not proud of this story, but I share it because it illustrates the exact kind of thinking I had to overcome. I should have realized that it’s okay and well and healthy to be proud of your work, now, right at the level that it is. That doesn’t mean you will always be proud of it. You might create something better down the road, (and you will, I promise), but now…
It’s important to love your work, now.
Because hating it isn’t going to make you a better artist.
I remember when I used to hate the photos I took. They frustrated me because they didn’t look like they got pulled off tumblr or pinterest. I would post photos on Instagram, and then go back a week later and delete them because I had doubts about how they “looked”. My photography didn’t look like – this, or this, or this, so to me it was like: what’s the point anyway?
That was my world for a long, long time.
But you know what it taught me? to stop treating my work/art as if it isn’t the best I have to offer right now. right now, it’s beautiful. right now, all I need to do is: keep creating, just keep creating.
I think one of the reasons we hate our work so much is because we believe that, in the end, our work will always be horrible, we won’t get better, and we’ll never be able to finish that draft or that painting or that project.
Our greatest fear is: I will never make anything that matters.*
*that’s a lie
so please, please
don’t ever think that.
But when you throw that beautiful gift of creativity skyward because…
a). it doesn’t look like someone else’s work.
b). it’s too hard
c). it sucks
d). you’re not good at it. (yet)
e). it doesn’t matter to anyone
you do a disservice to yourself. Creativity might be scary. Creativity might be hard, yes, but it’s even more damaging when you hate it. And besides, you really have to ask yourself this question: why am I doing it, if I hate it so much?*
*Aimee gets credit
for this one
Goodness, if you hate your work that much, find something else to do. Life is too short.
Comparing Your Art to Your Art
– instead of someone else’s
While I was looking for another personal story to share with you guys, I found this photo I had taken in 2015. And I thought I would show you how I used to edit photos vs. how I edit photos now ( because it might help you see that even though you think you aren’t moving forward, you actually are).
In 2015 I really didn’t know what I was doing. My dad had gifted me Photoshop the year before, but I had found it completely overwhelming. I actually didn’t use it until I got my first camera, and even then, I spent more time editing with other people’s actions than I did learning how to make my own. I figured that if I used actions made by professionals, my photos would turn out just like theirs.
*to clarify, “actions”
are a Photoshop term
in Lightroom they are
By 2016, I was way more comfortable with Photoshop. I still used a couple of presets that did simple things like warm, cool, or lighten a photo (but those were used only to save time). I did a lot of “clean editing” in 2016. Simple, light, minimal contrast. I actually still love the way this edit turned out.
I have been using selective color since 2017, and it’s easily my favorite editing tool. I created three different sc layers on this one, grabbing from presets I created last year, and then tweaking them a little. The only preset I used was a “warm” one that I use all the time. All it does it warm the photo, nothing else. It’s a bit moody, and saturated (which along with clean editing, is what I love).
^^^^ When I look at these photos side by side, I feel progress and growth. Even if I doesn’t feel like I’m learning anything, the work shows that I am learning. I am making progress, and getting better.
I think instead of comparing our art to other people’s art, we should compare our art to our art. <<< that’s where you’ll see how far you’ve come, and it won’t be as easy to get discouraged with the art you are making now.
When I look at how I edited photos in 2015, I’m not proud of it at all. But because I no longer feel proud of the way I edited that photo, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from it.
I know the day will come when I look back on my 2017 and 2018 photos the same way. They’ll remind me of the days when Windows XP was the latest operating system for home computers. But until then, I’m proud of those edits, now.
Let’s Get Really Practical
– how to be proud of your art.
– create a lot of stuff. create stuff that fails. take lots of notes. document why it failed. remember: you don’t have to share every piece of art you create with the world.
– share those things that give you a kick inside. share that drawing that makes you happy when you look at it. ignore that doubting voice.
– don’t compare your art to someone else’s unless you can learn from their art. compare your art to your own art, and let it give you inspiration to keep going.
– accept compliments. face it: people are going to think that your art is great even if you don’t. stop telling yourself that those people are lying to you.
– let your art be good, even if it isn’t flawless.
– read Julia Cameron. she will make you love your art for what it is.
– read Twyla Tharp. she will give you practical exercises to develop your art.
– don’t expect it to come overnight. it takes time. lots of time.
I’ve been doing photography for three years, but it’s only been nine months or so since I’ve really started to be okay with where I’m at. Which means that I have learned to leave my work as I’ve shared it. That means I can’t delete old work on Instagram because I get doubts about it later. I have to accept what people say about my photography, even if sometimes I don’t believe it myself.
I’ll tell you, it feels really good to plug my camera into the computer and not be filled with the urge to throw out every single photo. It help my creativity, a lot. So I keep some photos, I keep a lot of them. I share a lot of them too.
Because I’ve learned…
Hating your work is not going to make it better.
Comparing your work is not going to make it better.
Doing more work – that’s what makes it better.
Let’s stop thinking about art and creativity as if all that matters is: flawless, flawless art. Let’s just focus on growth. Let’s allow our art to be what it is without tearing it down because someone else did it better.
postscript #1 – this video
and this post . enjoy.
postscript #2 – if you want to listen to
a really inspiring talk about
creative living, listen to this.