Approval & Art

In The Craft, The Life Creative, Vision Is Better by David22 Comments

It is a short step from learning to use a camera to hoping others like what we create. It’s a natural step. But when the next step is allowing the tastes of others to change what we create, it’s a step in a direction that leads away from art.

We are responsible for our art, and to be honest with it. Others will react as they choose – some positive, some negative. We sometimes lose sight of this: it is the high calling of art not to create consensus but to stir something. What it stirs in others is beyond our control.

But we like control.

We like the likes.

They make us feel safe.

The problem is that safety, in many ways, is toxic to art. We get addicted to it. We cling to it and venture out less and less. We risk less. We repeat what “works” and avoid what doesn’t. But if what works is what holds us back, it becomes a kind of sabotage to keep doing it.

This hunger for approval is understandable. It’s just not sustainable. Or, ultimately, desirable. Art, I’ve heard it said, should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It should make us more human, and that means a stirring of all our emotions, so we can see them all, sift through them, experience them. If we accept that there’s a kind of responsibility to create this stirring, then it is not “likes” that should remotely concern us. It is engagement.

The most disheartening thing someone can say about my work is that it stirs nothing at all. I’ll take strong honest feelings any day over homogeny or apathy.

Not everyone will like your art. That’s not only OK, it’s good.

Don’t look to the public to be the voice that guides what you do and how you do it. It is not their job to mentor you. They don’t know you except through your art. They will pull you in a million directions, hoping you’ll make art that’s a closer reflection of who they are, what they like, what makes them comfortable. And we all creep closer and closer to sameness.

Your job is to make your art. It will find the audience it finds. God have mercy on the artist that creates for the adoration, and on us when she does.


  1. Anthony – I value criticism only as much as I value and respect the source and that’s my primary issue with out-sourcing that critique – especially to communities. There just isn’t a way to filter that criticism and all that noise would drive me insane. So if you’re asking me, you’ll find more value in one on one critique from people you respect.

  2. David, what do you think of putting pictures up for critiques, either on critique sites or in portfolio reviews? How do you then respond to the feedback from the reviewers? My answer would be to take the comments on board and consider them but don’t assume them to be “correct”. If there’s something you can learn from the criticism that’s great but you still need to be true to your own vision. What’s your approach?

  3. I believe many feel complacency to be a good thing. To be complacent in a relationship, marriage, job, friends, etc. It seems to be human nature to strive for comforting approval. I hope I am not so naive to think I am immune to this, but I have come to the conclusion that I will never be completely complacent or satisfied with anything (beside maybe bacon, wow I love bacon). That may sound like a negative way to think and to live but I see it as a type of virtue. I don’t recall at the moment who it was that said; If we are not learning we are dying (or to that effect). Approval of others for some weird reason, makes me nervous.

  4. Maybe, in this social media age, it is true also the opposite: to have too many compulsive “likes” on our photos could be toxic as well. And it could give us a misleading ideas about our work (how can people judge a photo, enter into a story or feel an emotion in just 2-3 seconds?).

  5. Two favourite quotes from this post –

    1. It is the high calling of art not to create consensus but to stir something.
    2. Art…should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

  6. Couldn’t agree more David!

    Photography needs more individualism. More work created that showcases the unique vision of the person behind the camera. Images that are created with purpose and confidence and less worry about if specific choices will be deemed acceptable.

    It’s only natural that people starting out gravitate towards acceptance and a less personal approach. But I really do believe, the sooner you create for yourself and worry less about “playing by the rules”, the quicker you’ll start to create meaningful work.

    There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by other peoples images, but you still need to be yourself and be totally comfortable with it.



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  8. Thank you for your words of wisdom. This is a common problem for attendees to our workshops. Hopefully, we instill in them a level of confidence, so they are comfortable pursuing their vision.

  9. Great blog. I must admit I crave the likes on my pictures. I’m just starting out and am constantly worried about not being good enough to be considered a photographer so any likes from strangers help wth my confidence. (If friends like it they are just being nice kind of deal…) So yes, I get ecstatic about likes. However, I do not shoot with the intention of pleasing them I shoot with the intention of pleasing myself but hope that others enjoy my pictures, too.
    Have fun on your upcoming adventures and I can’t wait to see what you are creating.

  10. David, there is a song by Wilco named “What Light” that echos much of your philosophy and these thoughts in particular. Give it a listen with your morning coffee if you don’t know it. Be well!

  11. Would it be safe to say that just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good (what ever that something maybe.

  12. That’s all- unfortunately true. We see thousands of pictures- and we know that they are processed with ready to use presets. We instantly recognize the filters used on instagram. And we know that thousand followers like them because they are INTO ” some aesthethics”. What we forget is that this “aesthethics ” will change next year. But can all those followers be wrong?

    1. Author

      In a way, Agniezka, yes, they can. The masses are not always right. But it’s not really a matter of right or wrong. It’s a matter of what motivates us and guides us. Followers can all be right, or they can all be wrong, it shouldn’t really have a thing to do with what we make. In other words, I think it’s the wrong question. 🙂

  13. Well said. It’s nearly impossible to have your art “out there” without the likes and immediate feedback…much like this blog I suppose. It’s critical to make your art for you and what is speaking to you inside. Make sure the feedback stays as an afterthought and not a preamble to the next project..

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