2014 is turning out to be a fun year! I have finally opened my mind to the idea that I am an artist. I know I’ve been an artist from the very beginning. Intellectually this makes sense. I love to think creatively, I’ve always enjoyed music, dance, performing, and of course photography. What is there to doubt?
In elementary school, art class was always fun for me, but I didn’t find myself to be naturally good at drawing, so in my childhood mind I wasn’t an artist. I didn’t have the skills to create the beautiful work I was exposed to in books and at museums. Whenever I tried to create something, I fell far short of my own expectations. Many things in my life came easily, and since drawing did not, I thought I would never be an artist.
Over time, I realized there are skills and techniques that, when learned and applied, can improve anyone’s work. Whether something comes naturally for you or not, you can absolutely learn to be an expert in the subject. I came to understand that just because I’m not good at something now, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue to do it and work to improve. Eventually, I even took a drawing class, and discovered that I can do a lot more with a pencil than I knew. But despite my discovery, the perception of being a non-artist persisted.
When I became a photographer, I continued to consider myself a non-artist. I felt like photography was “cheating” in the world of image-making. I was bi-passing the effort required to become a real artist because my camera was expressing my visual ideas for me. I enjoyed making prints in the dark room, and playing with filters, exposure times, and burning/dodging techniques. But I didn’t “make” the images myself. They already existed in the world, and I was just grabbing and altering them. I brushed off a lot of positive feedback because I felt like anyone could do what I was doing. I continued to de-value my work when I switched to digital photography because the tools were so accessible. Everyone and their brother could do this, right? All you had to do was click a few times with a mouse to enhance your photos. How could that be art?
All along, I understood intellectually that I was, indeed, an artist. But on a deeper level, I felt like a fraud. Sure, I had expertise. I had skills that others did not. I even had a personal style that evokes a sense of living vibrantly. But I wasn’t expressing new and novel ideas. I looked at some of the photographers who were making more elaborate and unconventional pieces, and justified their work as more “legitimate” because they were creating detailed scenes prior to releasing the shutter button. This was not something I was interested in doing, so there I was, back in the non-artist category.
I realize that a lot of people feel this way. The thing that comes naturally feels so effortless, it seems impossible that anyone could really appreciate or value the work. Whether you’re an artist or an accountant, you might wonder what’s the big deal? It created quite an internal conflict for me for many years.
So what changed?
I stumbled on some online communities that shook up my way of thinking. First, I discovered a Facebook group that discusses professional photography in bold and challenging ways. It wasn’t the usual whiny conversation about how pro photographers are misunderstood, and that we work harder than people realize. Instead, we talked about situations that professional photographers run into, and discussed possible solutions. This brought up many opportunities to discuss “why” photographers do what they do. My understanding of what me and my fellow photographers are actually doing as creators and business owners became far deeper. I developed some camaraderie, which led to more confidence in the value that my work brings to people.
Around the same time, I joined an artist community that focuses on running a successful art business. Through participation, I saw what other artists were doing, and realized we really are the same in numerous ways. Until now, I have primarily associated myself with other photographers, which made me feel separated from the rest of the art community. By joining this group, I have finally begun to realize that not only am I an honest-to-goodness artist, but I also have the freedom and ability to take an unconventional approach to my photography in any way I see fit. I don’t have to mimic what the other photographers are doing. It seems like a silly thing to “discover”, since everyone knows that’s the essence of being creative. But sometimes you just have to wait for that moment for things to “click” and become part of your deep understanding.
At this point, a whole universe of possibilities has opened up for me. One of the first things I’ve done is play with some photo transfer techniques. I’ve also been toying with paint and collage ideas that I can combine with my photographs. I decided to start small, using materials I have on-hand. I’ve created several 5×7 inch and 8×10 inch pieces, which I intend to offer for sale. Below are some iPhone snapshots of the beginnings of my new creative adventures. I have many many ideas to try from here. I am excited to find out where all of this will lead me!
Have you ever doubted the value of your skills? Have you felt like there’s no way anyone could be interested in something that’s “so easy”? Share your experience in the comments!