A Word About Art-Making

In Creativity and Inspiration, Life Is Short, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, The Craft, The Life Creative, Thoughts & Theory by David141 Comments

One of the happy perils of posting your work online is the very real possibility of criticism. I suppose posting it anywhere exposes you, but the internet gives people both a microphone and anonymity. Things get said online that would never be said in person to another soul. The internet, especially social media, emboldens us.
But it’s not only the internet. Once a week, I hear from someone who attended a workshop or a camera club meeting, who got beaten down for daring to try something new, something more expressive than the technically proficient but often lifeless photographs that some people are more comfortable with. Such is the sad reality of being different in a world that rewards homogeny.

I recently posted to Instagram a photograph (above) that I developed a little differently than I once might have done—more playfully and less bound by realism. It got a lot of attention, so I posted a quick “here’s how I did it” video (which you can find on Instagram), and that also seemed well-received by almost everyone. But two comments stood out to me—not as mean-spirited, but as wrong-headed and far too typical.
One comment suggested that if we changed our photographs so dramatically (for the love of Ansel Adams, all I did was shift the green grasses to more of a burnt umber and the blue sky to more of a cyan to compliment the oranges; I didn’t add rhinos juggling kittens or anything), we might as well let A.I. take over, which makes less sense to me than the rhinos juggling kittens would have. If a piece of art (and photography is practiced as art by millions of people) comes from a human heart and imagination, I can’t for the life of me see why artificial intelligence is the next logical step. 
But that’s not what really bothered me. It was this comment: “I’m not comfortable with this.” If I were still doing my Beautiful Anarchy podcast, the next words out of my mouth would be, “Let’s talk about it.”
In rendering orange grass and cyan skies, I had broken someone’s rules. I had crossed a line they had drawn in the sand, probably at one point for themselves but later extending it to others as well. 
“I’m not comfortable with this.”
I do not make art for your comfort. I make it for mine. I don’t make art to abide by your rules but to challenge my own. If, by some happy miracle, that effort results in something that others resonate with in the same way that I look to the art of others to keep me awake and alive, then that’s a bonus. If, in the end, you find some comfort in what I make, I’m thrilled. 
But how I make my art is my business alone. Sure, if I were a journalist or a documentarian, I would willingly work within certain parameters and expectations, but I’m not. And there’s a good chance you aren’t either. You make your art for reasons all your own, and the methods you use will be for the same personal reasons, not the least valid of which might be no more complicated than, “That’s what I like.”
Art-makers, listen up: You are obliged to no one to do things their way. You owe no debt of obedience to the judges, the mentors, or the pundits who try to mold you into their image. The best of whom, by the way, will zealously push you to make art that is entirely yours, and will be suspicious if it starts to look too much like theirs. What debt of obedience you owe is to your own curiosity and whatever spark that’s within you that’s trying to express itself in your work. 
Your art, and the way you choose to make it, needs no more validation than that you had the courage to make it in the first place and to hold it up for others to experience despite the risk of being misunderstood, or worse, ignored
“I’m not comfortable with this.”
Neither am I. I said I make my art for my comfort, not yours, but that’s not the whole truth. Art-making is often uncomfortable, and that discomfort probably isn’t a sign that you’re going the wrong way but in exactly the direction you need to explore. A direction that takes you beyond what you’ve done before. A direction that’s filled with both doubt and wonder. A direction that might not go where you expected or hoped but, when followed to the end, will make you a better artist with wider eyes and a bigger heart—a little bolder, a little more you. 
It has never occurred to me to be uncomfortable with how you make your art. I don’t have the attention span or the emotional resources for that. I’m too busy being uncomfortable and challenged by my own work.
“I’m not comfortable with this.”
Excellent. I can’t think of a better place from which to learn and go beyond the limits you feel within yourself or the stifling rules imposed by others. Change is always preceded by discomfort. Your feelings of discomfort are not a reason to turn back, but to forge ahead.

The discomfort of others in reaction to your work is none of your concern. Not everyone will like what you make, and that’s not really your concern either. Your job is to make it. To be faithful to the voice inside your heart that insists you do it your way. That is often the point of art, not only that it be made, but that it be made the way you want to make it. The making is much of the reward. 
Life is short, my friends. We make art to make that life more interesting and take it deeper—to explore questions, to discover what remains hidden in ourselves, to encounter and celebrate beauty. In this brief, short life, there are challenges enough to wilt the human spirit. Art has long been a welcome antidote for that, but to make art well, you must bare your soul and expose your heart. You need to risk it.

You will wrestle with your own discomfort daily. Don’t let the discomfort of others become your burden. And don’t allow their rules to become your chains.
 For the Love of the Photograph,

PS – Thanks for all the comments below. There’s just no way I can acknowledge them all, but thank you for chiming in!

PS – Want more like this? I send these articles out every two weeks to photographers around the world who want to improve their craft and explore their creativity and I’d love to include you. Tell me where to send it and I’ll send you a copy of my best-selling eBook Make Better Photographs, as well bi-weekly articles, first-glimpse monographs of my new work, and very occasional news of resources to help you keep moving forward in this craft we love.

“Each and every one of your emails inspire and motivate me to want to jump right out of my chair away from my computer and shoot for the love of it . Thank you David.” – Millie Brown


  1. I think that is is always interesting that people hold up and Adam’s work as the truest form of photography. In reality, none of his photos look exactly like his subject in terms of the way that we see them. With our eyes. First of all, most of his work is in black-and-white, and that in itself is a huge change from reality the way we see it. Next, his dodging and burning techniques changed much of the view to make the image more compelling to the viewer. Then he would vignette thec orners of his prints to gently draw your eyes inward on the frame. Ansel Adam was a fantastic photographer. We revere him art as being one of the greatest photographers who ever lived. I would agree. But I would also argue that his work should not be used as an example of photography that is “pure” without any retouching or editing work done to it.

  2. I too would be curious about exploring the why behind discomfort — both mine and others. I find this fascinating as a response, probably even more fascinating than ones where the response is “vanilla”. I think it’s an opportunity to crack something open that perhaps needs our attention. Like you say, exploring that discomfort will often (I believe, always) lead to something interesting. It’s an opportunity being handed to us to learn something new about ourselves. Like you, I believe this type of response has more to say about the viewer than what they’re viewing and, knowing you, I believe you would welcome further dialogue to get to the heart of this (though we both know it’s never really possible to truly understand the mind, or reactions, of another). I loved the playfulness of that image, and it spoke volumes to me about your willingness to step beyond any creative boundaries you might have previously set for yourself. I hope that person can find the courage and willingness to step outside theirs too.

  3. Haha, yay! So good! What a great confirmation of what we already know inside and possibly are too wussy at times to adhere to!

    Some people are just uncomfortable with anything outside their control. I remember running quickly to the store once, with my laces undone at the top of my boots. A woman actually looked at my boots, looked at my face and back to my boots and cleared her throat in that special, unfavorite aunt kind of way. (I was an adult!) I smiled and kept walking. I will now remember that incident in the context of art and thank you for bringing artistic personal choice to my attention, consistently!

  4. David, I always look forward to your emails.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this one and the feedback it resulted in.
    For beginners, I have always thought that entering club photographic competitions is a useful exercise do develop your skills and style. When I joined my club 14 years ago, I loved the diversity and style of more experienced members and they dominated the yearly awards.
    With time, I learned about composition and the “Wow Factor”and what I want to achieve. No two judges will score the same. We now publish judges comments on our website which helps members to reflect and try to ” ïmprove” their images. You don’t have to agree with all of the judges comments but take what is helpful to you.
    I too would like to take this post to our club committee as a topic to discuss and introduce them to your passions and skill.

  5. Wonderful insights David into the world of being judged. The funny thing is, the person that was not comfortable has made a bunch of us realize we can do what we want with our own creative juices and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Thank you to you and the original commentator for bringing this topic to many people’s attention.

  6. David!

    Wow, you sure pack a lot into one article. In addition to a vigorous proclamation of artistic independence, you also touch on:
    – exteranl affirmation. To successfully ignore those that aren’t “comfortable” with your work, you also have to be able to not need external affirmation. That’s a big ask for many, including myself, when you’re unsure of your art.
    – “bound by realism” ~ since photography is so representational, it’s easy to think of a photograph in terms of “being real.” But what is “real”? Even the act of composition, of framing, of inclusion and exclusion, adds subjectiveness to every photo.
    – your use of the beauty and emotional power of color to make a more expressive photo. Perhaps the sky wasn’t “really” (there’s that word again) that hue of blue, but maybe that felt more “real” to you. BTW, I’ve enjoyed watching you embrace the power of color in your photos over the years.
    – finally, I really want to see your photo of rhinos juggling kittens.

    1. Please! I would also very much enjoy the image of rhinos juggling kittens, but I suppose that could make the rhinos uncomfortable and well, that’s where it gets complicated . . .

  7. Thank you for this and all of your encouraging and inspiring thoughts!

  8. David–keep doing what makes you Happy!! Don’t listen to the haters….their responses all stem from some type of fear. YOU, on the other hand, have the courage (no fear here) of being vulnerable & showing who you are. The photo is WONDERFUL, btw. Keep Being You & Show Your Art to the World.

  9. Amen! My artist statement ends with (after saying I can do whatever I want): ‘… and I make no apologies’.

    BTW, really looking forward to the rhinos juggling kittens monograph!

  10. Your comments made my day David! I had just received an e mail with what I thought were great images that I had entered into an Australian competition, 12 non acceptances. And then your. email! Thanks!

  11. Yes! Just what I needed to hear, although more as it applies to life broadly. Thank you for saying with such clarity what my soul has been whispering.

  12. Your articles are the best. They often seem to be just what I need to hear at the right time.

  13. I can’t type AMEN as big as I would like but that doesn’t minimize how much I agree. I don’t want to compare what I do with others, or even carry the weight of their opinions and miss the blessing of what photography does for me. I don’t even care about the level of my photography as compared to others anymore. I just love making photographs. So thank you again for sharing a well-written message to give us freedom to continue with what we love to do…photograph through life.

  14. Hmmm! I’m often uncomfortable with art I see. But, that isn’t an indictment of the artist; it isn’t my response to their process. I respond to the work, which has to be better than ignoring it or scrolling by. Sometimes I love pieces that make me uncomfortable. Sometimes, not so much. But, the fact that I’m made uncomfortable is a sign that I stopped and looked – that the image had something “more”. Gotta be a good thing.

    As for your lovely elephants. I confess I looked and felt a bit puzzled. It looks different from other work you’ve shared with us. Until I read your piece I wasn’t sure why. Congrats! Once again, you made me stop and look.

  15. Hi David, I understand the guys comment a bit. There’s a photographer who always left me feeling uncomfortable, both through his work and his words. I found myself questioning why I felt this way without a clear answer. So I decided to take a workshop with him, and surprisingly, I’m loving it. It’s great to be challenged. Thank you for this article and the pic of the elephants.

  16. Well written David,
    We (I) are social animals. We (I) feel something when others comment on our work.
    EVERYONE want to be appreciated (Dale Carnegie).
    I’m leaving my camera club for exactly the reasons you expressed.
    My images are too way-out for most of the members and all of the judges.
    I guess I’m lucky I can survive without having to sell my images, but I have to admit, I like to see how they affect people.
    My challenge is to find a group to explore with.
    I’ve been lucky enough to go camping with Freeman Patterson and attend workshops with Chris Harris.
    Very nourishing. The challenge is to keep on searching and creating. For me.
    Yours truly,
    Valérie (from Montréal)

    1. Excellent article, I appreciated the passion with which it was written. Having said that, I would like to see rhinos juggling kittens . . .
      (I am a cat owner so it would have to be gentle juggling”

  17. My question is would we question the artist or the artwork if it were a painting rather than a photograph? I don’t think we would. In fact I think most expect the painter to use colors that work well together, and would likely give a bad review if harmonizing the colors wasn’t done.

  18. Yes, a thousand times, yes. The image is so striking and your edit brings out the wonderful (wonder-full) qualities of these magnificent characters. And this post reminds me how much more enjoyable photography is for me since I quit camera club (insert speak no evil emoji) and everyone else’s rules. Thanks for always inspiring, David.

  19. I guess I am somewhere in between on this. So many times the general consumer of photography takes it as truth/fact/real because it is the medium of photojournalism and the likes. Then there is the art side of things as you have long told about and I have enjoyed thoroughly. The commentor I think may come at this from the perspective that, had you not shown what you did to this image, plenty of viewers may have taken it at face value and thought that is how the scene was in real life. We understand that painters take liberties and that paintings may be close to realism but are still not fully true representations of what the painter saw down to the details. Photography has somehow (through assumption or sometimes through artist lies) been categorized as realistic truth unless otherwise denoted. Why many are having a hard time with AI as AI hides behind authenticity when really it is completely generated. It is why there have been upsets in certain contests when images have been found to have been staged rather than spontaneously “captured.” There is a way to lessen the “discomfort” with processing photographic images artistically vs documentary and it starts with general public education as two what is photographic art vs photojournalism and the disclosure of who a piece has been created.

    Just my thoughts anyways.

    I miss Beautiful Anarchy but know how much time goes into running a podcast on top of everything else you do. You are an amazing inspiration and thank you for sharing the image, process, and having this type of discussion!

    1. Hello Bender and David,
      Forgive this reply on the fly – am in the midst of other reading and pulled out my 2007 copy of Michael Freeman’s, “The Photographer’s Eye.” The first paragraph of his section on Syntax (p. 186) is apt and has definite resonance with Bender’s feedback.

      “Syntax, as normally defined, is the study of the rules governing the way words are put together to form sentences. In photography, we need something similar,
      particularly in the digital era, to account for the changes in the general visual character of photographs.”

      Freeman goes on to say,
      “If we compare a late nineteenth century landscape from a wet-plate, a Tri-X 35mm black and white, a 35mm Kodachrome, and a modern digital night scene shot on Raw and using HDRI…, there are some obvious differences in how the images look, and in how they were and are perceived by audiences.”

      Add AI and stir.

      I think the topic of syntax is fertile ground and worth finding an update and expansion of it with AI in mind.

      Apologies to anyone who’s already addressed this in the comment run.

      David, hope this helps. Seems we’ve had this reference come up before. It’s not you; it’s me. You can always count on a speech-language pathologist using her left brain as an end run around right brain underdevelopment 🙈

      David, I think we’ve been here before too. I know I’ve referenced this previously.

  20. Well said, and it cannot be stated enough.

    Those kinds of comments and opinions say a lot about the commenter and nothing about the art or the artist. I mean, clearly that person doesn’t get art so why are they wasting their time looking at it? Seems like a foolish thing to do, wasting time when we only get a finite lifespan.

    …and I like what you did with the photo. Both thumbs up!

  21. Yes, David – I am so very “comfortable” with what you have done. My eye is drawn to that of the elephant … and I smiled – So, YES, you’ve Got IT !

    1. Great piece David. I appreciate and honour individuality in all things, but especially works associated with creation. In a world seemingly obsessed with conformity individual voices can be overwhelmed. I for one applaud anyone courageous enough to fly their freak flag. Thank you for your unique voice. Life is all the more beautiful because of your willingness to be the unvarnished you.

  22. Hear, hear (here, here?). Too many people confuse art with journalistic integrity.

  23. As a colourblind photographer, your elephant image looks perfectly normal to me!! But I totally agree with your sentiment – I am the Competition Secretary for a Photographic Society in the UK and we believe competitons are about learning not winning – so we continually encourage our members to enter images that they love – not those they think the judge will score well.

  24. Thats BEAUTIFUL
    The colours are so warm its a work of art ,
    Why must everything be the same old boring true to colour etc etc ?
    Thats ART = No boundaries.

  25. Amen, David. There are so many comments already that I’m sure this one will get lost. My photo group is directed by the members, not judges, and experimentation is welcomed (or tolerated). I just hope to do more of it myself–it’s hard. Hard to get away from the well-composed, traditional photo. Your elephant photo has given me a bit of a nudge.

    1. Ps. I love this Bob Dylan line: “Beauty walks a ragged edge, someday I’ll make it mine.”

  26. About AI and art and biology books… Some of us take photographs that are as close as possible to reality ( or something we think is reality) and if the colors are not “normal” it causes discomfort.
    Anyway this one photograph of elephants and grass was not true biology – I felt it was possibly something like art in my eyes. And I simply liked it – without more explanations.
    I thought that AI sounds terrible and is something bad destroying all art, soon. I’m retired and not young at all, but some AI features have been helping me to create something much better then the traditional methods . I. started making B&W images in a darkroom dodging and burning and many other tricks. Did not enjoy it so much.
    Now I use CaptureOne in my iMac and it has simple AI systems that make me enjoying dodging and burning and everything – and it does not look bad at all. I enjoy it. Sometimes I thing my photographs could be art. Not sure if anyone else think they are.

  27. Thank you, David – too often anything that doesn’t conform to others’ expectations is condemned as “wrong”.
    Where would we be without someone pushing the boundaries of convention?

    I’m always reminded of this quote by George Bernard Shaw –
    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world around him;
    the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
    Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

  28. Well said and about time. If someone does not like it they do not have to look!

  29. David, Artists having been making viewers uncomfortable for hundreds of years. Imagine how empty the art world would be without Van Gogh. Congratulations , for you are indeed, among good company.

  30. I applaud your position on art. You have articulated what must be said to those who would not understand that art is, if nothing else, very personal. I will take feedback from a few photographers of my choosing. They will deal on technical issues more than artistic.

    I do not take photographs for contests or social media; I take them for me. If I like them, I am happy. Your position and mine are congruent. Photographic artists need to be more forceful in articulating this position.

    Thank you for your efforts to promote art.

  31. I actually love the colors more than if you left it as you actually saw it. It makes the lead elephant pop out more. I think if you left it as you actually saw it, then it would be just another wildlife image. When I started doing nature photography, I employed the “rules” I had learned as a photojournalist and couldn’t understand why my images just looked eh. It took me a while to learn it’s ok to create art and not just document thinking you are creating art. Funny thing, I have my own rules about life, which is definitely not following conventional, but not when it came to my photography. I tried following what was expected. Sometimes I still have to remind myself it’s ok to create not the expected. I think of myself as an outdoor photographer and not just a nature photographer. I enjoy all things outdoors from dumpsters to wildflowers. I try to create beauty out of everything. So you do you. I’m sure those who don’t like it also wouldn’t like Picasso’s work either.

  32. Oh how I loved this. Probably for all the wrong reasons, but nevertheless. People just have to don’t they? They can’t help themselves. Can’t just keep scrolling, nope gotta weigh in with the negativity. I nearly laid my camera down because of another photographer’s comment on one, just one of my photographs that he asked to view at a “invite only workshop”. He was 22. I was not. His comment left me speechless and not in a good way. And if I am honest, just feeling too damn old to deal. I left said workshop and in the 4 hour drive home I got pissed, really pissed and then had the epiphany, “What do I care”. This is mine. Now in honesty I have improved in the years since but not because of the 22 year old, but because I have worked my butt off. But I make art. Yes I shoot pictures, but when I am finished, I see art. And that is all that I care about: what I see. So that’s why I loved your essay. Cause if they can find fault in your work, then my friend, I realize I have nothing to lose. I can make art to my heart’s content. Stay well. And thanks for making me smile.

  33. “for the love of Ansel Adams…” Since you brought the Great Man up, I think it is helpful to revisit how dramatically Ansel himself altered photographs in the darkroom compared to what a “straight print” would have looked like. Of course, he was gifted in “pre-visualization,” but even allowing for that, and how it affected his exposure and film development to control density and contrast even before making the print, it is remarkable to see how he returned to some of his negatives over the years and re-interpreted them in sometimes very different ways than his initial prints. His book, 40 Examples, goes into the process you are advocating for, interpreting an image to give it added impact, or a fresh interpretation or meaning, or even subtle changes or “improvements,” sometimes after years of reflection and experience. One reviewer of 40 Examples over at Amazon noted “he spent as much time in ‘post processing’ as he did shooting,” and another went even further, saying, “You will learn that Ansel was using pioneering techniques in developing and printing to manipulate his images for dramatic effect, a 1940s version of photo shop and lightroom.”

  34. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for this. Been dumped on too often by the rigid camera club ethos of rule bound work. Really appreciate your art oriented vision.

    1. YES! Absolutely agree wat you say David. Fortunately I am at a stage of life where it is more important to live my greative spirit and I find most of the satisfaction comes from the trying, experimentation and the process of the doing! Thanks for your, always, balanced approach yo photography (the reason why I started following youl.

  35. I love this article. I take/make photographs for me, no one else. I am a member of a small group of like minded photographers. OK I actually started the group. Our group is named Break the Rules! photography club. Much more enjoyable than having to conform to everyone else’s vision.

  36. Imagine a world where artists obey the rules of others. I see this in street photography too. Commentators criticizing photographers for breaking the rules – I guess it makes them feel authoritative and superior, holding others work to “a higher standard”. Applying rules and boundaries is anti-art. Documentary photography is another thing altogether. Commend you on starting the discussion and wholehearted support your view on this.

  37. Thanks for the reminder, David.
    It reminds true that if I don’t like my photos, no one else will.
    And thanks for the inspiration since Within the Frame.

  38. David i agree with you 100%. Too often on some forums I’m on I see “Experts” lambasting a poster for “breaking the rules” or not following the rules and I, maybe waaaay to much for some of the experts have and will go on to defend someone who’s spreading their wings and attempting something “different”. Whether I like what’s posted or not if I make a comment i take the time to let them know why I’ve commented…Keep it real man, love your dialogue.

  39. G’day again David,
    A few quotes I have collected on this theme.

    Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

    Sticking to the Rules is important – Until it isn’t.

    If you don’t break the rules – the rules will break you.

    Art does not lie in a prescriptive or proscriptive set of rules.

    Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth – Pablo Picasso.

    Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication – Leonardo da Vinci


    1. Wow, just wow! Just what my friend and I needed to hear, I forwarded it to her and she nearly jumped thru the Internet! “I feel heard!” she said! Now, I want to shake up our camera club. May I put the link in next month’s newsletter? I am sure it will resonate with some and roll off of others, but I want them to think!!!

  40. G’day David,
    I really enjoyed your OpEd piece here. It resonates with me. I am a member of two camera clubs and each competition (monthly) I try to enter at least one image to provoke comment and thought. Most judges hate them but club members start discussions that lead to new thoughts so that is good.
    I have a folder of images as a project at the moment with sub-folders such as “Art is Breaking the Rules”, and “The Art is Outside the Lines”. One of my favourites came from a comment in that old TV series ‘Northern Exposure’. “Repetition is the Death of Art”.
    So I keep that one at the forefront of my mind.

    Repetition is the Death of Art
    Cheers from Downunder,

  41. David, Thanks for posting this. Lately, I’ve been over saturating many of my images, so much so, you should put on sun glasses to view them. And I’m doing so as I like how they look. And I’m doing it for me! It’s probably a phase I’m going through, but one that I’m ver comfortable with right now. I went to Iceland last Winter, and it’s amazing how much color you find in the landscapes just by overly saturation.
    I’ve left my email and website below. But I haven’t updated my website with my currently saturated photos. Just haven’t gotten around to it. I have posted on Facebook and so far, no one has criticized them.

  42. Thanks for this reminder.
    My daughter who is an artist and an art conservator tells me some of my work is overcooked, especially after using. PureRaw 3. I can see that if over sharpened, I don’t supersaturate either. But sometimes I like some contract and an almost abstract quality. I live may daughter, but It is better to listen to myself.
    It also remains true that if I don’t like it, no one else will.
    Thanks for your insporation and good ideas over the years

  43. I love both your photograph and your explanation. If we view photography as art then people making controlling comments are like trying to tell a painter what to paint. Your medium, your expression. My most poplular photograph is a ferris wheel where I turned the sky pepto pink and the cars neon colors. I loved it and so did many others. Be bold and spread the word!

  44. I respect that you voiced this. One of the most liberating things I ever heard in photography was from Michael Medford. He stated that he made photos he liked and if someone else liked them, too, it was a bonus.

    I finally let go of trying to be technically perfect and really began to capture what I FELT. I’ve spent over two decades training motorcycle riders, from beginners to police motor officers. Like art, motorcycling has a technical aspect. While correct technique is important, riding is more visceral than technical. Once they actually feel it their riding improves dramatically. Same with art (in our case made via a camera).

    Thanks for all the inspiration and for sharing your personal experiences, including the suffering then victory with the leg. Like Patrick alluded to, we’ll always hear mostly from detractors while those with positive thoughts are a quieter voice. So you’ll likely not hear it but you’ve made more of a positive difference than you’ll probably ever realize.

  45. From a Friend who is equally thin-skinned regarding criticism, helpful or not or just by being mostly ignored.

    I loved your image!

  46. Would we ask a plain aire painter to only use the colors in their tubes? Would we demand of a water color artist to only use the colors in the box? If we are artists do we not have the same latitude we give other art forms to create their work as they imagine it?
    One person does not form the world’s opinion and even if it did, there is no authority for anyone to determine what is “right” or not in the world of art. The expression of the image is how we see it and the product is that vision on a given medium.

    If someone finds it relatable, lovely. If no one finds it relatable it is simply ONE other way of seeing something! The magic of art is we get to see the world through the eyes of others.

    Let those who are not constrained by the boxes carry on and maybe the rest will learn how to see from the heart.

    1. Over 40 years ago, I entered a mono shot of a lioness in Luangwa in a club competition. It was late dry season and the grass was bleached white. What did the judge say? It was overexposed, there was no colour in the grass. This was an ignorance issue rather than a taste issue, but it still rankles…

  47. You asked Instagram, ” interested to know what you think…” wtf did you think was going to happen? Comedian Neil Brennan has a great bit on how unqualified people are in offering opinions, ” ten thousand people on YouTube have voted thumbs down on Beethoven’s 5th symphony … your music sucks bro, I’m from Tampa I know good music.”

    A 2018 youguv poll of over 8,000 US adults found just 66 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 years old have “always believed the world is round,” and you’re asking them for a pov? Them telling you your grass is a ‘tad unrealistic’ is the least of their issues.

    Do Conner McDavid, Patrick Mahones, or Serena Williams ask Instragram, ” so how do you think I am playing?” No they don’t, for god’s sake your David DuChemin, don’t ask us for assistance.

    Hope that helps :-]

    1. Author

      Funny. Not entirely untrue. But to be fair what I asked was what people thought of videos like the one I posted. I was trying to ask “do you find them helpful?” which is valuable information to me. But whether we ask or not, engagement will sometimes mean getting reactions both unexpected and unfavourable. It puts me in a tail-spin for a couple of days because I’ve got thin skin and take everything personally, but I usually recover. Thanks, Lance! See you in June!

  48. My imagination immediately began to form a very human story of the relationship between the two elephants… I think the colors you chose invited that. If you had left this photo in its original form I doubt my reaction would have been so vivid. The color scheme became the open door for me. Great job! I love all forms of art that becomes invitational, inviting the viewer into their personal interpretations.

  49. David,

    Well said and discussed! I have an artist daughter who taught me years ago in “making art for yourself”. If you find some folks who like your images then it’s a plus not a requirement.

    However, what that person said in terms of being uncomfortable reminded me of a quote : All growth starts at the end of your comfort zone by Tony Robbins. I think it’s time, if that person is honest, to start being uncomfortable about their own work…

  50. David:

    I always go with Martha Graham at times likes this: “What people in the world think of you is really none of your business.” ~ Martha Graham

    And James Clear: “I can’t control the other person’s behavior, but I can control my response. Their actions may be rude or unacceptable, but I still want my response to be measured and thoughtful. Even if they aren’t doing what is right, I still want to make sure I’m doing what is right.” ~ James Clear

    I also keep in mind the words of Thomas Merton: “In an age where there is much talk about “being yourself” I reserve to myself the right to forget about being myself, since in any case there is very little chance of my being anybody else. Rather it seems to me that when one is too intent on “being himself” he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow.” ~ Thomas Merton


  51. Hello David,
    You are so right on target. I learned from a very accomplished artist 50 years ago, that our role as an artist, is to prompt the viewer to be either in love with our work, or to hate it. Never settle to the boring middle. Get an emotional response from folks, which is what the great artists have always done.

  52. Thanks for this encouragement, David. I’ve heard it from you many times and it’s been sinking in. As for producing work too imitative of someone else’s, though, I have to confess I’ve been doing that, but primarily to learn how. Been studying the life and work of Josef Sudek, and likewise of Eugene Atget, and then trying out imitating their art (esp. Sudek’s) using my “new” 1960s Calumet 4×5 view camera, which a friend gave me. “Lifted Spirit” has been of great help. Lots of “complaints” from the usual suspects, but I don’t care. I’m having a great time with the ever shortening remainder of my short life. You’ve been for me a big part of that, David.

    1. Author

      I’m honoured to have been of some help on your journey. Don’t worry about imitation. It’s essential as a waypoint on the journey, and only becomes dangerous when we stay there.

  53. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt and others

  54. Well said. “I’m not comfortable with this” is a fine thing to say if you’re engaged in planning something or moving the living room furniture around or developing a strategic direction at work. It’s actually ok as a response to art, too — if it’s an internal comment, and the thinker either moves on or, more productively, asks themselves why. But as a response to other people’s art with no further engagement? Noise. Tedious noise.

    1. Author

      There is so much noise out there. I’m trying to keep my own noise levels down. Thanks for commenting, Mary!

    1. Author

      If others make their own art, and we make ours, and if we celebrate what others make (or that they made it) rather than criticize…what freedom we’d all enjoy.

  55. Life on the edges of creativity is the life to live.
    Bravo David !
    Well said and well done !

  56. You always write with passion and enthusiasm and this is a great topic for you to have addressed. I agree with you strongly and alway remember that when what you love to do, in this case make photographs, becomes “a job” it stops being fun. I enjoy the solitude of wandering around a place and seeing what my eye and in turn camera take interest in. The last thing I want to be worrying about is if others will like my work, will it sell, etc. For me it is the process of finding and making a photograph that satisfies my creative instincts and gives me pleasure. My photos, or at least the ones that I think are cool, find their way into personal books I make of my work. I am often the only one who gets to see this and that is okay. Once in a while I share them with friends and family and they seem to take pleasure and seeing the world as I do. I love your work and hope that one of these days you will be teaching a class or leading a group so that I can meet and work with you.l

  57. Oh I needed to hear this David. Thank you! That self-doubt creeps in whenever my work is ‘different’ (little ‘tut-tut’ here from the viewers) and I need a reminder of why I do this. How wonderfully you put into words what I am thinking!

    1. Author

      It makes my day to know my words landed somewhere they were needed. Thank you for that, Donna.

  58. David, thank you again for your insightful thoughts. Art is hard and it takes time. I started The Compelling Frame over a year ago. I started trying to complete a lesson each week but found that I kept going back to review and relearn. I am getting much more from the course by taking my time and fully understanding each lesson before proceeding. It is better to understand than just being done.
    I have been entering images in my camera club competitions for several years. At first, I was trying to create images that the judges would “like” and give a good score. It would be best if all the judges scored the image the same – then I had made an image that conformed to their standards. Now I submit images that I like. If the judges scores are divergent, I have been successful because I have challenged them and their norms. But I have made images that I am proud of!

    1. David,

      I’m challenged every time I post my photographs to social media. After reading your newsletter and perspective on a person’s work of art, I say “Amen”


    2. Author

      I have a feeling we’d have a great chat about this over coffee or some whisky, Jim. Thanks for chiming in. I’m so please The Compelling Frame is providing such food for thought for you.

  59. Hello David,

    A big thank you from my heart for this article. That reminds me why I decided to invest myself in photography and why I always have this urge to create, to go above and beyond to understand a craft.

    For the past weeks, I’ve been wavering whether to quit or not because I compare myself to much (need to be acknowledged), I lack of gears, I’m not satisfied with my craft, financially worn out (need of security) and on and on and on.

    So now, I’ll just take a rest, take it step by step and do because I want to do it.

    Have a nice day


    1. Very helpful. I struggle some with the camera club mentality and find when I push the boundaries, the camera club competitions push back. I ignore that most of the time though. Just to also say, I really miss your Beautiful Anarchy podcast. I’ve read the book at least twice and it’s been a great motivator. Thank you.

    2. Author

      Hey Jessy, take all the time you need. Your camera will be there when you come back to it. Maybe just do it for you for a while. Don’t lose the wonder!

  60. I always smile when I find your Contact Sheet in my mailbox. I very rarely comment but todays struck a chord. Just yesterday I was editing a photo that I may or may not post online. When finished I made the decision to change it to look more “conventional.” It didn’t feel right making those changes but did so anyway. Never again. Thanks David.

    1. Author

      There is certainly a mentality out there that needs some push-back. I think we can do that by relentlessly being faithful to our own art. Fight the good fight, Dave!

  61. Hi David. Your blog has a lot of great wisdom in it but the last two sentences says it all for so many things in life. “Don’t let the discomfort of others become your burden. And don’t allow their rules to be your chains. “

    We have all allowed that to happen at sometime in our life. Know it alls hide behind their fear and try to drag us in to make them feel better. It’s time to break loose and be your own person. Life is more exciting that way



  62. I can so relate to this David! I personally fear the onset of AI, but if I open my mind a bit I realise that in one way and another it’s been with us in some form or the other for quite a while already! I am happy – and often seek positive criticism – but I know instinctively when I get very few likes for something I’ve made and posted that I’ve challenged some hard-set notions, and have been spending far too much time trying to work out what it is. How liberating it is to finally be able to believe that I don’t need to post anything at any time to amuse or impress others! I will continue to create and experiment with photography, whether or not I have ‘developed my own style yet’, and have fun while I’m doing so. Then I will decide whether or not I want to share it, ask for feedback or simply keep it close to my chest for a while! I only realised recently that followers come and go, and many of the photographers I admire and respect do the same – so thank you!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Jane. Don’t get me wrong, I think AI is going to prove toxic for the human race, I just don’t see what it has to do with making art. On the other hand, the whole thing is rather uninteresting to me. I just want to do what I do. What others choose to do is up to them. I’d be curious to know what other artists think about it all – the poets and painters, etc. Are they as threatened? Either way I don’t see it standing in my way of using my photography as a means of expression…Interesting times. Thanks for chiming in.

  63. David, I agree with just about everything you wrote above. Edward Much’s “The Scream” does not make me comfortable and perhaps it would not be my first choice to hang above my bed, but I love the work. For me, artwork is something that reveals something new to me, that is creative and imaginative and that offers a unique and personal perspective of the artist. It is a tall list of requirements and a small number of my work would meet my own criteria, especially in my recent work.

    Still, looking at your image, it would not make me see it as artwork. I do not mind your color changes and I kind of like them. Where I live, I do not see elephants often (Canada) so seeing one is more interesting to me than a photo of a dog, say. But if the subject was different (say a dog), would that still be seen as an interesting, imaginative, revealing photo? One that gives a unique personal perspective? One that surprises? Is changing the colors a bit from what the camera captured enough to call the work art? This is of course my opinion only and you and others may disagree. I do not know your work, and perhaps some of your other images would be more clear-cut examples of a work of art. My comments are not to imply that you are not an artist. I am just saying that I think that perhaps this specific photo is not the best example of an art image.

    1. Author

      I’m hesitant to embrace a universal definition of art, Pavel, but even more resistant to a definition that is so subjective that others get to say what is and isn’t art based on their response to it. We can say it’s uninteresting art, we can say it lacks insight or other criteria that is important to us, but the word becomes somewhat meaningless if we allow ourselves to be the adjudicators, doesn’t it. So Picasso’s Guernica is art if I say it is, but not if you say it isn’t? I’m not disagreeing with you, per se, I’m just pointing out the need, perhaps, for a more generous definition of art. Of course my photograph is art, that doesn’t mean it’s good. We need to stop thinking of art as Art. It’s just one area of human endeavor at which we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. But I’m not sure failure stops it from being art…Thanks for being part of the conversation and contributing thoughtfully to it.

      1. David, we sort of agree. Years ago, I looked for definitions of art, and there are endless different kinds. I needed to find something that would serve me as a lighthouse and finding a ‘my” definition did give me a sense of direction, but the beauty of art is that there can be many valid definitions. Yours seems close to Duchamp’s. I did look at your other photos and many of you are insightful and in my view also better composed (another trap of endless disagreements) and I would not mind calling them “good art” using your terminology. If you wish, I would call this one not-so-bright art, but that is of course an entirely subjective call on my part. By the way, Guernica is my favorite among Picasso’s works. The first time I saw it, it felt like being hit by a truck. Guernica is strikingly valid for modern days with brutal wars where Ukrainians fight for their existence and where the Middle East is in flames again.

        Just to make it clear. I do not see myself as a judge of art (even though I have been an accredited judge in club and international competitions, but I think that it is valuable to have conversations about art and to see images through another person’s eyes. In the early 20th century, there were many movements and manifestos as artists discussed art over bottles of cheap wine. In my mind, that same period was the period when art leaped forward like at no other time in history.

  64. To me, there are two aspects of photography: faithful recording and fanciful presentation. The latter allows our imagination and creativity to play with reality. In this case, I assumed the dry season on a bad weather day. I like this image.

  65. I am not one to comment a lot, but I have to say I love this!! I will continue my journey of photography and editing in a way that makes me happy. Thank you!

  66. Way to go David, I totally agree with you. I used to be a member of a photography club. I quit because I did not want to take photos to please judges, instead, I wanted the liberty to take photos that would please me. If they also please others, it’s great.

    1. Author

      There has to be another model for camera clubs to follow. I know there are some really great ones out there. But the journey of an artist is, I think, a fundamentally solitary one. You have to learn so much of this stuff by yourself and without the voices of others.

  67. Well said and Amen! We should be done with trying to make everyone in the room “comfortable” with bland art that has no heart, no soul, and nothing of interest!

  68. “Don’t let the discomfort of others become your burden. And don’t allow their rules to become your chains.” If only everyone could use your words as a guide for living their life, the world would be a much happier place.

    1. Hi David, very well said. This is the email I’m waiting for & I’ve saved it in my daily read browser. You gave me courage to do my own art, my own struggling creativeness and my own journey to learn more about photography.

      Thank you.

  69. WOW! I am VERY comfortable with everything you have to say here David…. It reminds me of these words that I will use tomorrow evening in a presentation I am giving to a Manitoba camera club…

    “To do what we should in art is bondage.
    To tell others, with our art, what they should think or feel or do, is propaganda.
    And to tell other artists how they should do their art,…. is presumptuous and unkind… from “A Beautiful Anarchy”.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Dave. I hope the presentation goes well tomorrow. Give my regards to the club!

  70. Well David that has to be one of the best and most concise rebuttals to a comment like, “I’m uncomfortable with this”. Art may have some flexible guidelines but in my view certainly has no hard and fast rules that must be adhered to. I could probably say more but others already have.

    1. Author

      Thanks. My reactions are often a little too knee-jerk, often they’re more of a reaction to something inside myself than to the intentions of whomever it is I’m reacting to, but I do think there’s a nugget of truth in there. The comfort zone has never encouraged us to strive for something better…

  71. Thank you David for continuing to push us to become uncomfortable in our own worlds, I think that is where we as humans are most resourceful and creative. I keep forgetting and find myself in going down that other road… the one most travelled. Your words go far beyond photography, keep reminding me please.

    1. Author

      I’ll keep reminding myself but you’re always invited along for the ride! 🙂

      1. Thanks for this article David! I‘m very comfortable with this.

  72. Had such an experience last year when someone viewed one of my pieces. Basically said I PS’d the hell out of it. I just smiled; basically said it wasn’t but they had the freedom to think what they want. We do live in America after all. Life’s too short to prolong petty disagreements.

    1. Author

      I live in Canada. 😜 Always good to hear from you, Steve. New course coming out soon and I just discovered Vimeo automatically does closed captioning. Thought you’d like that.

    1. Author

      LOL. My dad was a photographer and anything with intentional movement or any ambiguity drove him crazy – he was very literal and I’m not sure some of my photography was really his jam. What is it? It’s your lack of imagination, Dad. LOL.

  73. Amen to all of this. It is an interesting thing to note that the mere process of our work we create can make others uncomfortable. As you so elegantly said, it certainly opens up a conversation. I am a retoucher by trade, so my photography tends to be heavily edited. I am certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Good thing there are so many other amazing creators out there. Something for everyone.

    I love your nuggets of photographic philosophy.

  74. TESTIFY! As always, well put, David. Setting aside that we all seem to focus far too much of our attention on the naysayers rather than the majority of followers who like and enjoy our work, you expressed this valuable point with your usual grace and style. Anyone who tries to please everybody doesn’t please anybody. Keep doing what you do, my friend, putting beautiful work into the world and inspiring others to do the same.

    1. Author

      You nailed it. Amazing what a tail-spin one negative comment can put me into.

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