Voices, Part Two
A cable vanishes into the clouds in a marble quarry high above Carrara, Italy, the place Michelangelo sourced his marble for David. Much of my own artistic journey feels like this, more of what I’m looking for is obscured than revealed at first glance. I spend a lot of time waiting for the mist to clear.
When it comes to the voices we listen to, I think there is much more to discuss than my short article could possibly cover earlier this week. Here are a couple more thoughts, some of them jarred from my head by comments left in response to the last piece I wrote.
One of the voices I touched on, but didn’t really address was that of mis-aligned ego (that’s what I call it, call it whatever you like, the name doesn’t matter). I mentioned the toxicity of a desire for fame or praise, which reminded me of a line from a Josh Ritter song – “I’m singing for the love of it; have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.” (Snow is Gone). It’s a strong voice and one many of us probably wrestle to silence for much of our lives. But fail to silence that voice and the inescapable result is work that is self-conscious and less a gift to the world than it is the photographic equivalent of fishing for compliments. I’m not saying the desire to be acknowledged is necessarily unhealthy, but that when that voice become the loudest voice, art suffers. How do you deal with that particular voice? Most religions have tried at length to address this same struggle, so you won’t find a simple answer here. But practically, I think it begins with learning simply to recognize that voice and then finding voices that speak truer things. This is part of what it means to struggle with the so-called human condition and the artist’s life.
If that voice of the mis-aligned ego might be described at times as arrogance, the flip-side of it is no less distracting. I don’t know a single artist that doesn’t wrestle with cycles of self-doubt, second-guesses, and listening to the radio station in our heads that Ann Lammot in Bird By Bird calls K-F*CK (the * is mine). We all wrestle with this one and it’s one of the reasons we need both fans and critics – to give us something closer to an objectivity that’s clouded by the collective voices of K-F*CK. Those voices come from the past, from unkind words spoken by people who ought to have known better. Parents, teachers, other kids. We know as adults that the cruel words of people from our pasts are only that, but they hold no less power subconsciously. Finding new voices to listen to begins a long process – perhaps life-long – of hearing truer, more positive things. They won’t be silenced, but they can be replaced. Until we do that those voices hold us back. “Ridicule,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “is a terrible whitherer of the imagination. It binds us where we should be free.”
What I do know is that this stuff is harder to work through than simply learning to chose an f/stop. It’s big picture and it’s lifelong and it probably looks like more navel-gazing than some people want to do. But folks, Art is hard. Art, to be art at all contains something of the artist within it. And to do that requires self-disclosure, courage, and a willingness to face these voices and intentionally chose truer ones. It won’t come through pretending the voices aren’t there, and it’s hard to hold a camera when your fingers are in your ears to stop the voices you don’t want to hear.
Vincent Versace wrote an article on Scott Kelby’s blog yesterday, and among the nuggets was a short discussion about the voices we listen to. I suggest reading the entire article because Vincent’s one of the rare voices of sanity in an art addicted to gear and technique, and when he’s this lucid ( Vincent gets hard for me to understand when he drifts into the academic) it’s worth a read. Here’s one of the quotes that caught my eye yesterday morning, and it offers a different solution to one of those voices.
“All artists hear a call to express themselves creatively, but too often, that voice fades with time and is replaced by one that says, “You can’t do that.” or “If it was such a brilliant idea someone else would have thought of it first.” The quickest way to silence that voice is to do exactly the thing that you think you cannot.”