The War of Art: part 2 [getting better]

Sometimes people tell me things like ‘your work is awesome! I could never do anything that good!’
Well that sounds real egotistical of me to mention. I didn’t mean it to be. I know there are also people saying ‘well that guy sucks and has a heck of a lot to learn’. It’s just that you don’t always HEAR from the people who have constructive criticism to give.
Well let me tell you something. I used to be TERRIBLE. That means I selective colored things. and I used on camera flash. and I tilted most of my shots on purpose. And, on horribly cheesy flyers for my business (then called ‘smart image’) I advertised my incredibly customizable photoshopping options. OH YEAH.  
[here’s a selective color shot. Just for proof.]
 
 Yesterday I sat across from my writer friend, Lance, at the coffeeshop. We were both editing- words for him, images for me. He put his laptop away and sat a large stack of manuscripts in front of him. Some thick, some thin- things he’d written in the last 3 years.
 
It was a little startling what happened next. Correct-a-pen in hand and 60 seconds into reading the first stapled stack of pages, Lance took those pages, ripped them in half, and calmly walked them over to the trash can. 

I stared at him for a second. With sort of an unintentionally hurt expression. It wasn’t my story- but I still felt sorry for it.

My expression also asked him whyyyyy he would do such a cold, calculating, and merciless thing to a work that he had obviously poured a lot of time, thought, and artistic self into at some point in time!
 
‘It was crap.’ he said. And not in a bitter sort of way. Not to be down on himself. Not to be dramatic. Just that he could read it now and recognize- after having learned a heck of a lot more in the last year or two- that it just wasn’t very good. Not compared with what he was capable of NOW.
 
Well that made me think about MY work.
I used to think that if I looked back at my work from years, months, or even days ago and could honestly say to myself
‘WELL THAT was CRAP!’
that this was depressing. Now, however, when I go back and look through my own portfolio from 5+ years ago…
I can tell you it’s actually pretty bad. Not that it was all bad, but I can identify the flaws, the many many flaws, and I can tell you what I’d do differently if I were to re-take that image now. And this is a GOOD thing. It means I’m better. Just like Lance is better. Just like my graphic designer friend Matt is better at making websites now than he used to be and my wife who couldn’t crochet at all 5 years ago can now make an optimus prime washcloth in no time flat. (yes it IS awesome).

Does this mean I’M great now? Of course not. Compared to one photog getting started, maybe I’m pretty good, but compared to another, I may be awful. But my real hope is that in another year I’ll say what I’m making now isn’t so good; in another 5 years I can say it was actually real sub-par; and in another 10, that it was terrible.

So what’s my point? Not to say I’m working toward being the all time best, most famoustest photographer you’ve ever seen. Just to say that I’ll keep working to get better, because I think everyone with a calling- especially a creative one- owes that effort to themselves, to the world, and most of all, to their creator.
Even more important than that, fellow creatives, I’m saying you need to be FOCUSED.
This means not being discouraged if you’re starting out and you think you’re really kind of sucky. Maybe you are right now. But do you think you’re being called to do this? Do you think you have the eye for [photography/writing/graphic design/music/flower arrangement]? then KEEP AT IT.
This also means not letting pride get the better of you. Did some friends tell you you’re awesome? That’s a great encouragement. But don’t let it tell you ‘so you don’t have a need to get any better!’ The only way to be really good at what you do is to keep doing it, no matter what, as often as you can, and to always be learning how to master your technique a little more. 
I’ll leave you with a quote from ‘the War of Art’, the book I’m drawing on for this little pep-talk series: 

‘This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabes don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us… when we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.’  

-Steven Pressfield

Real artists ship. 
 

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