A couple years ago I went for sushi with Chase Jarvis and as we sat across the table talking about art and commerce and life and stuff, he expressed an idea that I’ve loved and played with ever since – that the task of an artist is this: to create, and to share, and to do whatever you need to do to sustain that cycle of creating and sharing.
I still love the simplicity of that paradigm. It feels right to me. But lately a couple other conversations have converged and have me wondering, what do we do when the sharing, of which we’re fond, especially online, gets in the way of creating? What do we do when it is sharing itself that sabotages the sustainability of the thing we love? What do we do when looking at the images others share leads to envy, comparisons, discouragement, or worse – imitation – instead of inspiration?
“What do we do when it is sharing itself that sabotages the sustainability of the thing we love?”
I love sharing my work. I love knowing it inspires. I love experiencing the connections with others that it does. And yes, I love the feeling of significance that gets sparked when someone likes or comments or re-tweets. But I do not love those things the way I love the quiet making of a photograph, the private wrestling with the muse that happens while I write a paragraph or a book. I don’t love those accolades the way I love holding a print in my hands the first time and knowing I made this new thing.
And that’s the problem. Those are solo activities. They are things I do on my own, first for myself, and they do not go well when they are tainted with expectations, obligations, and the clamouring of my ego to hurry up and get it out already so others can tell me what they think.
We have never, in all of human history, been able to share our work so immediately and so broadly. There used to be a rhythm to creating and sharing. It took a while to get our work out there. There wasn’t the urgency and the clamour for more that we face now. It took long enough for our work to get around that we had time to create in the lulls. The feedback took longer to return to our ears and we could create without the noise of that feedback distracting us. I wish I could remember who last asked me how I balanced my creative life with my social media life. If you’re reading this, I’m not sure I do. Balance isn’t something I’m known for. But I’ve been giving it a great deal of thought, because I think balance, or something like it, is getting increasingly important for me.
“Would a slower, more considered, more curated, flow of shared images be more sustainable? Perhaps it’s time we slowed down.”
Here are three thoughts I have about sharing my own work – thoughts that I don’t have answers to, but am batting around in my brain.
One. Is it possible that photography has dropped in value / demand as the supply as increased? There is so much incredible photography out there right now, it’s hard to know where to begin assigning value to it. That’s a commercial problem. But is the same not true when we ask people to pay attention instead of money? Would a slower, more considered, more curated, flow of shared images be more sustainable? Perhaps it’s time we slowed down.
Two. Could it be that the interactive nature of social media sharing has more effect on the images I make and the way I make them than I once thought? Would my work be better – or more authentic (and therefore better?) if it was created in isolation from all the thousands of images of others, and without the possibility to so quickly share work that perhaps needs a little more time to mature?More pressing, perhaps: is my ability to share with such immediacy, taking me out of the moment I should be present in, making photographs in, making – most importantly – memories in?
Three. More existentially, would I be happier if I spent less time looking at the heavily curated lifestyles of others? My God, I travel the world, and spend time with nomads, and scuba dive in water Jacques Cousteau counted as the most beautiful in the world, and still I feel the pressure to be like others. How hard might it be for others to resist living a vicarious life instead of living their own?
“More pressing, perhaps: is my ability to share with such immediacy, taking me out of the moment I should be present in, making photographs in, making – most importantly – memories in?”
The issue of sustainability is the most pressing for me right now. I’m considered prolific, but how long can I keep it up? I commented to a friend in Japan that I feel like I’ve created a monster – a beautiful monster, a monster I love – but a monster with a voracious appetite. But I have the time. And I have my entire adult life living as a creative professional so it’s not a new road, and I know ultimately that these are decisions we all need to make on our own. How are others wrestling with this? Have we created a monster we’re now obligated to feed, and watch nervously from the corner of our eyes when we should be making art?
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