Shut Up and Work?

In Quoted, Vision Is Better by David10 Comments

“A pro views her work as craft not art. Not because she believes art is devoid of mystical dimension. On the contrary. She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She knows if she thinks about that too much it will paralyze her. So she concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. Like Somerset Maugham she doesn’t wait for inspiration she acts in anticipation of its apparition. The professional is acutely aware of the intangibles that go into inspiration. Out of respect for them she lets them work. She grants them their sphere while she concentrates on hers.

The sign of the amateur is the overglorification of, and preoccupation with, the mystery.

The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.” -Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

I think there’s alot in here worth unpacking, so rather than write something similar, I thought I’d go straight to the source. Care to discuss? Comments are open.


  1. I agree (almost) completely. Were I to wait for inspiration I’d be just as well off waiting for Godot. Sometimes, actually often, I have to just pick up the camera and trust that doing so is the right decision. I did this yesterday despite everything seeming wrong – changing weather, extremely tight schedule, lack of monumental ideas, the option of lunch instead, etc. Yet, it proved to have been worth it. I didn’t get any wow shots, but I don’t think I was even looking to do so. I ended up with ideas and inspiration and will now return with new eyes when I have adequate time to dedicate. Or even when I don’t.

    Of course, I think about inspiration and motivation. Sometimes there are blogs that force me to do so. 🙂 However, often inspiration arrives after I’ve already been pressing the shutter release. What starts as habit suddenly moves beyond the mechanical into a realm of inspiration. It’s like a runner’s high. When that happens, there just aren’t enough hours in the day nor batteries in my bag.

    So, yes, indeed. Shut up and work.

  2. Along the lines of inspiration I’ve always loved Jack London’s quote. Perhaps a little more heavy handed than others, but it certainly does put things in perspective in regards to getting to work.

    “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

  3. Inspiration is the performance.
    Working on your craft is the rehearsal.
    Without a rehearsal, there wouldn’t be much of a performance.

  4. “I looked at the first test frame on the LCD and thought, “Holy shit, that actually works!” — Joe McNally

    My personal definition of the consummate professional.



  5. I think the essence of it is that the professional, certainly on assignment, has to come up with the goods, regardless of what’s happening around them, or the emotional state they happen to be in at the time.

    Inspiration and creativity, can be something that is pre planned, but other times it happens when a situation or event occurs and everything comes together on the spur of the moment.

    Competence in the craft of photography is certainly a conduit to creativity. When the moment occurs, knowing what options are availble to capture the occasion, how to use the light, and lift the image out of the ordinary, is what matters.


  6. I’ve heard it said (and said myself) that “Luck consists of being prepared for an opportunity.”

    The same, I’d say, is true for inspiration. If we’re on the scene, with our cameras, aware of the light, looking around open to what we see — *then* we are prepared for inspiration.

    So, yes, I agree wholeheartedly! (and my copy of “The War of Art” is on its way, thanks to your earlier reference to it.)

  7. There’s a definite danger here of taking things out of context and therein lies the problem. A part of me reads the words and says “Yep, I can understand that, you’re right, get on with it!” but, there’s another part of me that is screaming out “Gome here whilst I slap some sense into you!! You’re totally wrong!!”.

    It is something of a truism I would imagine, to say that every Pro-Photographer has taken a photo that sucks. It’s somewhat less true to say that everyone who’s taken a photo that sucks is a pro-photographer. Sweeping generalisations can be a minefield of disaster and in my wanderings through life, one of the only things I can say with some degree of confidence is that ‘everyone is an individual’. There is certainly a time for action just as certainly as there is a time for reflection, but what works for the individual is what works for the individual.

    When I take a photo of something I rarely give myself time for thought and often criticise myself for it, feeling that I should think more. Once I put my camera down though, I think, and I think a lot! For me it’s a need, a part of who I am and what I am. I don’t do it to be a pro or an amateur and hopefully i’ll never consider myself to be either, I do it because things interest me and if they interest me then I want to learn and ultimately understand them, and through that, learn and understand about myself.

    I refuse point blank to define myself by one thing, be it art, religion, nation, colour, or anything else. The inclusion of one thing doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of everything else. As such I look for balance and that seems to work for me. Whetehr or not I will one day be considered ‘Pro’ or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that I fully intend to die having understood why i’m here.

    Having said that, I don’t think i’ll manage it lol, but i’ll give it my best shot 😀

    …and to finish with a quote, this from ?sensei, Morihei Ueshiba

    Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your innate enlightenment.

  8. Author

    Ian – I think you should track this book down and give it a read. I agree that taking it out of context is only partly helpful and has its dangers – I’d love to hear your take on the whole book. I don’t think Pressfield takes so much about “being a pro” as an exercise in definition so much as it is a descriptive thing.

    No one wants to be defined, but if you take 100 different, unique artists, and look at them closely I think for all the differences you’ll find most of them, in different words, would agree that “Inspiration comes from working”

    In fact, getting back to your point, Pressfield himself talks about the pro not allowing his work to define him.

    Find the War of Art, I think you’d like it. In fact, whether we agree with everything he says is not even the point – I don’t – but it’s a mind-stirring book on craft for anyone who loves it so much he dreams of doing it for a living.

  9. Cheers David, and if it’s one you recommend then i’ll certainly track it down and give it a try. My appetite for reading runs a close second or third to my appetite for introspection.

    It’s something I find hard to describe but I always hate to admit that there can be anything rigid and one of my favourite quotes is that “Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”. In retrospect that’s something the author is probably expressing in a different way. To that end though, I hate something like the rule of thirds as an easy example, but at the same time I can’t deny it works, and nor can I help myself wondering why within that I seem to prefer foreground interest to be in the bottom left third rather than the right.

    It is perhaps, analysing things too far and you are most certainly right that thoughts of such things should never take the place of just getting out there and doing it.

  10. p.s, i’ll let you know when I find it but my local Waterstones is currently showing it out of stok. They actually list two versions, ISBN: 9780446691437 & ISBN: 9780752860312 that were released 6 months apart but i’m guessing they’re the same with just a minor update

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