What if you had two choices as a photographer:
To imitate the style of others, have it sell well and achieve notoriety
Produce original work that you love, but it results in few sales and does not receive critical praise
Which would you choose…and why?
I think that how we answer this question reveals something about why we create. For a very long time I created to please others, to gain recognition and notoriety.
Because I was trying to please everyone, my work was all over the place. It seemed that every month I was pursuing some new technique, process or fad that I had seen in a photography magazine. And if an image received praise, then I was off in that direction until another compliment took me in another direction.
I was like the wheat in the field, blown to and fro by every wind. In a very real sense my work was not my own, it was imitative, and creatively…well it wasn’t.
Here’s another question that was once posed to me:
If you could choose between having your work sell for thousands of dollars
Having your work in thousands of homes
Which would you choose?
There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, but knowing what you want is essential to defining success for yourself.
For many years I never questioned what success meant to me, I just assumed that it was selling my work for high prices, exhibiting, being represented in big name galleries and publishing books.
It wasn’t until I started achieving some of that success that I realized that it wasn’t very fulfilling. It was a transitory pleasure that felt great in the moment but afterwards left me feeling empty. It was like an addiction; I needed more and more of the spotlight to maintain that feeling and yet it was becoming less and less satisfying.
Eventually I realized this formula wasn’t working for me and I finally stopped to ask myself “what do I want?” and “what will bring me lasting satisfaction” and “what do I consider success?”
Answering those questions has changed everything that I do, it was a life changer that affected much more than my photography.
I wish I would have asked myself these questions earlier in life, but I’m just grateful that I did eventually ask them.
P.S. I’m really enjoying the different thoughts and viewpoints expressed in the comments. They bring to mind four points I’d like to emphasize:
1. My conclusions may not be your conclusions. We all think differently, learn differently and have different approaches to life.
2. We are all at different places on the path and so what may be right for me for where I’m at, may not be right for you for where you’re at.
3. We all have different goals. If you’re earning a living from your art, then to some degree you must please the buyer. I do not earn my living from my art and so I have the luxury to please only myself. But I really do hope that those of you earning a living from your art do pursue personal work that is reserved only for pleasing self!
4. There is nothing wrong with exhibiting, selling, publishing or gallery representation. I do all of those things, but the difference for me now is that this is not my goal but rather a byproduct of following my goal, which is to seek and follow my Vision.