Googling "creative fear" -or- Being an artistic cliché

In front of me there are two screens open, the one I am typing on, and the other has my Lightroom catalog displayed. In that catalog there are over 15,000 images, of that I posted a little over a dozen of them about six months ago. Then... nothing. I love taking pictures, and I love manipulating them into something I can share. Between being in the field capturing an image, and the point where I click to share there is a minefield of excuses that I run into. There are hundreds of articles that discuss them usually containing something of the following:

  • Thoughts of not being good enough yet
  • I am not creative
  • After I get organized then I will be ready
  • What if I get negative feedback from the trolls
  • What if I get positive feedback and it goes to my head
  • I need product X and then then my image quality will be "Professional 
  • After I finish reading this book I will be ______, and then I will be ready to work


Googling "Creative Fear" in quotes there were 126 million results, after this will just add to the list. Like anyone in denial, it just sort of hit me that after all this time telling myself that is not me, I don't do those things, I have genuine and sincere motives that can’t be tainted. I can no longer deny I am an artistic cliché (interesting side note: I just procrastinated 5 minutes finding out how to type an é on a mac, instead of copy and pasting it. Proof in point). For any number of reasons I have not shared much of my work. Today I spent an hour researching older lenses that I could put on my camera with the thought it would help me make better images, after that I did not even buy anything. I learned a little about some older glass, but nothing good came out of it. That is an hour I will never get back. 


I don’t alway want to be editing photos, but so many other things would be so much more fulfilling than researching products, or researching some esoteric imaging technique that will not be available outside of a research lab anytime soon. Instead my personal time would better spent playing fetch with my dogs, reading a good book, or any number of other things. All those people who write the articles on creativity and fear are right, creating something is terrifying, and I have an arsenal of tactics to avoid arriving at a completion point in my work. There is always some reason to be found to delay sharing the work, and part of me genuinely wants to let people see what I do. This is not a plan on how I am going to be more productive, it is not a reflection of all the techniques I employ to prolong a project, it is not a tutorial on how to not get any more of that “Creative Fear”. This is a confession, part of me for so long felt I was above petty faults and there were genuine reasons why work is under wraps. At one point my non-photographic work was really only meant to be therapeutic, and too personal to comfortably share. Those works I am glad are private. 


Questions as to “Why” someone would want to create something artistic is an exercise in futility. Creativity is a strange process/experience that I do not believe to be based in rational thinking. As such I do not believe there to be a rational explanation as to why we do anything. A dialog between Nathan and Caleb in the 2015 movie Ex Machina sums up the creative human experience rather nicely.


Nathan: You know this guy, right? - Jackson Pollock. - Jackson Pollock. That's right. The drip painter. Okay. He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between. They called it automatic art. Let's make this like Star Trek, okay? Engage intellect.

Caleb: Excuse me?

Nathan: I'm Kirk. Your head's the warp drive. Engage intellect. What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, "You know what? I can't paint anything, unless I know exactly why I'm doing it." What would have happened?

Caleb: He never would have made a single mark.

Nathan: Yes! You see, there's my guy, there's my buddy, who thinks before he opens his mouth. He never would have made a single mark.

Nathan: The challenge is not to act automatically. It's to find an action that is not automatic. From painting, to breathing, to talking, to fucking. To falling in love...


I am not above these human flaws, I am self conscious and at times probably egotistical too. I do not want to admit that, I want to be unique, achieve perfection, or “be special". Like that hero character in every movie, I think this gets imprinted in our minds at an early age. It is a common desire to be gifted, and to be loved for that gift. An even more common desire is to achieve perfection as a means to be bullet proof. These are desires are antagonistic. Inside of me is a tug-of-war, perfection vs egotism. The thought once I am perfect I can proceed is at odds with the part of me that wants attention. Any chance of experiencing the creative parts, or even the ability to be creative, gets trampled in the middle.


In all honesty I just like exploring the world, and when I have my camera I am driven to discover places I normally wouldn’t find. Procrastinating in an attempt to buy some time to achieve some impossibly perfect goal never ends well, and by definition being humanly impossible to achieve, I just procrastinate some more in an infinite loop. Being more of an introverted disposition once the egotistical side of myself introduces the thought of anything approaching fame just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and the thought of sharing my work is even less appealing. Once I start believing I am inherently good at something my ego gets out of check, and when I inevitably produce something of poor quality it causes quite a bit of cognitive dissonance. So my confession is I have let all these bullshit ideas into my mind. I have lost sight of what makes me feel excited, engaged, and sometimes even brings me happiness in regards to my work. I am sure I will have relapses, but the only part of photography that I care about is process of discovery, capture, and creation of an image. Everything else brings me no pleasure whatsoever, and for quite some time I have fooled myself into thinking otherwise.


"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. "

                         -Richard P. Feynman-