What if you try something new, something you’re not quite sure about how to do, so much so that it even makes you uncomfortable? Good! See, you could fail. Excellent! There’s nothing great happening when we’re sitting at home in our easy chair. There’s no magic when we are working the familiar, the comfortable way we’ve always worked. There’s only magic and the chance of reaching something new–greatness–when we stick our necks on the line.
Try something. Even if it doesn’t work, falling on our face is still forward motion. And it certainly beats standing still. Watching time pass all around us and finding ourselves in the same exact place as we were 2, 3, 5, 10 years ago. Read these lyrics line by line for what they say, they’re truly profound.
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
~”Time“, Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
No matter how much the Jones’ next door have, no matter how wealthy anyone is, even Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, they still only have 24 hours in their day. And with all their wealth, they may not have the gift of time that you and I have.
Time is one thing that we can count on. What we have to make the most of. What are you working on? What’s your next project? Where’s your focus? What, as Ralph Gibson says, is your point of departure? Without that, you won’t accomplish much. You won’t bring any work to completion.
We have to try something. Go out and play. Take chances on ideas that might not work. That are risky and ripe for failure. So what? You have to try to see what you make. Give the muse a chance to work.
Delivery is key. We have to ship. We can’t wait 10 years to make a movie like Stanley Kubrick did. That puts out very little work. Work to get it the way you like it, get it close, set a deadline, and then ship. There is no perfect. It doesn’t exist. But it’s still excellent work, a product of your unique vision. Put it out in the world and get started on your next goals.
Do you dare? To show your unique vision, photographs that say, “This is what I think is good, see what I made. This is me. It may not look like anyone else’s but that’s because it’s not, it’s mine.” If delivering it to the world makes you uncomfortable, that’s okay. That means you’re working outside of the cliches. Without limits. With your vision completely in control.
It means that you have something to say. Stand behind it even if some don’t like it. As long as you like it. Own it. It’s your work. And do it again. Make it yours. People will start to recognize you in your style. Think of how recognizable Cindy Sherman‘s work (self-portraits), Martin Parr (garish colors), Bruce Gilden (in-your-face-flash), or Elliot Erwitt‘s photographs (funny, dogs) are. They follow their own vision, make their work their way.
We all have to do just that, too.
I create street photographs that attempt to tell stories. That bring a little humor to the picture. Like this one, I’ve had several people not see what I so plainly see. Do you see the story I see? I see it as funny. Take a look at it before you scroll. I’ll put my version of it, my answer, below the photograph.
I’ve had people tell me it’s a picture of a cool dog and a gardener. And there must be something happening off to the right because a couple of people are laughing. That’s what I’ve heard from viewers. Not at all close to what I see. Scroll up and look again before reading on.
Here’s my interpretation:
The dog dug up the flower bed! The dog’s owner, who was sitting on the bench (where there is now a space) with her friends, ran over to repair the damage. The dog’s owner is embarrassed by the dog’s mischief. The dog and her friends are all watching and having a laugh.
Am I right? For me I am. Everyone may not get it or agree. But that doesn’t make it any lesser to me. It works perfectly, the framing is tight, the information is all there. And every viewer gets to create their own version of what it is that it says.
It just might be a gardener and her dog to many people, to you.
That’s okay. It’s actually quite true that the viewer gets to finish the art. That’s what’s great about art. We create something and the viewer completes it by their interpretation. Just like the stand-up comic doesn’t have anything, his art requires a receiver. Unless he has an audience to talk to, and an audience to respond with laughter, what exactly is it? Words on a page and memorized? The comic’s words and performance meet the audience and they complete each other. Laughter is the response the audience returns to the artist.
The viewer sees our work and judges it based on several things: What they already like, what they’ve seen previously, what they’re comfortable with, what they have developed a taste for, what doesn’t challenge them or make them uncomfortable, what agrees with their sensibilities, maybe even what medium they like: color or black and white.
Not everyone was ready to see Robert Mapplethorpe‘s gallery work.
Jackson Pollack wasn’t an instant hit with his unique abstracts, but he stuck with them–they were his vision–until others started copying him. But there can only be one. The first is the gifted one.
The rest are imitators. Hanger-ons. There is only one true artist, she or he who delivered it first. The artist is celebrated for having a strong vision. The imitators are reminded that their work looks like the work of someone famous.
Put ourselves out there, our best work forward. Claim it as who we are. Own it for what we make. And maybe we’ll create something that really resonates because of how uniquely we see the world.
That’s risky, that makes us uncomfortable and that is potentially tremendously rewarding.
The alternative is staying home in that easy chair.
Watching the clock.