This morning, I innocently stepped into a conflict with another photographer. He misunderstood a comment I made about another artist’s work. His outrage went so far as to find my website and then throw his low opinions of my work/thoughts back at me (He didn’t find much to talk about as the site is in renovation mode – take that!). I didn’t take the bait. As a rule, I don’t engage with angry/negative behavior online. I just don’t like the karma it gives off. However, I was affected. I didn’t take this man’s issues to heart specifically – I know who I am and that I am an ever-growing artist. What it did was to stir up a more dangerous monster: self-doubt.
Artists are quick to see the flaws in their work. We are mostly dissatisfied with many things we do. I have pursued the path of self-discovery for some time. The process has revealed some encouraging facts about myself, but many failings and weaknesses too. All told, I would say my journey has uncovered more about myself to let go of than to embrace. I am learning to accept this by understanding that there just isn’t enough time to spend on passing interest, because “focus determines reality”. I have a core area that I want to carry out successfully: share what’s in my heart.
Revealing the core
Early in my career, I found that I was interested in everything. I wanted to make music, to write books, to take photos, to make movies, games and other narrative media. I wanted all of it. I spent many years spinning around in pursuit of these various fireflies. What I couldn’t accept was that my creative hunger would only find real substance in letting go of the shotgun and picking up a chisel. I needed to remove the extraneous and embrace a small toolset I could call my own.
The importance of this removal process really came to me when I had come across an anecdote about Michelangelo and his process.
Michelangelo was known for his ability to perceive a form inside a block of marble. He saw his work as not to create the figure, but to remove all pieces that encumbered the majesty that already existed within. I feel the same way about myself. This life can force upon us so many labels, questions, and bad habits in negative thinking that prevent us from bringing our real gifts to light. It can also dazzle us to the point that we avoid deeper, more more meaningful questions. It is my task to discard these obstructions – these pieces of rock that obscure my vision. I came into this world as a raw block of marble and I need to leave with as much of my true form revealed as I can manage. I need to chisel off the rubble.
Now, I see myself in an artists’ studio as both artist and the block in the center of the room. At the beginning, I spent a lot of time staring at it, wondering where I needed to start or what was it even suppose to look like. I hesitated to do anything to the block. I didn’t want to make a mistake. Now, I try to spend time removing large pieces to better understand who I am and who I want to be. Staring and wondering do not help. Work combined with the needed risk of lopping off a piece here and there so as to focus on core areas that actually may belong–freeing the potential within.
Commitment to risk and failure
This process has uncovered a core set of interests that my creative drive comes from: a sense of curiosity about people, places and stories. If you boiled me down to my souls’ bones, there would be nothing but a book, a map and a question. Everything else either relates to these or they are put aside. This revelation has been a critical piece to my growth puzzle because it gives me a filter. I can take information in and set it against my core and decide how it relates and then file it. Nothing more to do or carry that doesn’t belong. Therein lies the risk. The courage to throw aside the extraneous and embrace the storyteller. The risks don’t stop there. Once inside my zone, I have to push my creative pursuit beyond the comfortable and then, I have to fail.
Failure shows us our boundaries. I have learned memorable lessons from naive attempts that ended in partial or total failure. The key is that the attempts had to be made. I can trace the revelation of every piece of my real self to one failure or another. Now, I can see that not only do I learn from failure, I survive and thrive because of them. This gives me a shield to defend against those dark voices.
This is how I battle my internal demons. I let them have it with my own measuring stick and not theirs. It allows me to put every negative thought or concern into a box for examination and then ship it off with no return address. No drama. Just decision and elimination. When fear of failure and embarrassment tries to detour my momentum, I down-shift and grit my teeth. Nothing is stopping me now.
Embracing the result
Have I revealed enough of ‘the form’ to have total confidence? Not really. I still question and probably always will. In fact, I feel as though I am only just getting to work on moving pieces out of the way. Perhaps the intrigue of Michelangelo’s prisoner collection are the parts that are still buried in the stone.
In my development, I now keep my friends (storytelling) close and my enemies (self-doubt) at a distance. When an outside voice stirs up the beasts, I can quell them with my own recognition of being an artist who is deliberately and painfully growing by reaching out to people, visiting places of inspiration and collecting the tales that come from those adventures. It fills me with gratitude and hope.
Oh, and to the fellow photographer with whom I had a brief exchange this morning, I thank you for helping me be more precise in my communication, more thoughtful in where I spend my time and more committed to making a better impression with my website–reminding me why it is important.