Creative people are very similar. No, I do not mean in the work they produce. There are MILLIONS of artistic folk in the world with their own vision into every piece that is created. I mean we are similar in the sense that many of us face the same hardships. From the business side to the creation itself, every artist feels discouraged at one point or another. Lack of confidence in work, failure to market oneself, to NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY (exclamation point), I have never met a single creative person who hasn't felt these things. We pour ourselves into everything we create in hopes of producing something OTHER people will enjoy and hopefully purchase. Don't even get me started on failing to produce something you actually love yourself (but that is a different blog post entirely). When this doesn't work out, it is typically followed by lots of pouting, lots of contemplation, and (in my case) lots of cat time.
Here are three of the hardest things I face every day as an artist and how to tackle each one.
Wearing Every Hat
From behind the screen, it looks like all I do as a photographer is take an expensive camera, play in photoshop for a few minutes, and then post on Instagram. Any artist can agree that the actual creation aspect is a very small part of the job. You have to be in charge of sales, product management, advertising, scheduling, connecting with others, and having actual talent all before you take that first sip of coffee. If all I had to do was take pictures of beautiful people and edit them I would happily live as a hermit at my desk. I would have the perfect job. Unfortunately, that doesn't pay for chipotle.
Understanding taxes? One of the reasons I'm an artist is because I was trying to escape math, but at some point there necessitates making a leap from hobby to a real profession. It feels like a constant juggling act making sure you perform in each area of business adequately enough to sustain. I have found that the best way to conquer this feeling of overwhelm from doing everything yourself is to learn how to organize your process. Whether that means scaling down the sizes of product you offer, scheduling social media posts, or hiring someone else to be your secretary, you have to learn how to funnel the business side to what works best for YOU to leave time to create your art. Keeping a strict schedule of when to reply to emails, setting delivery deadlines, and other tasks is the first step I took to managing the hat rack I created. What works best for you?
Success is Determined by Someone Else
We've all experienced it. You confidently put something online thinking it'll get tons of acclaim, you pat yourself on the back, and then one smart kid comments "this is crap.”Ugh. Back to the drawing board.
As an artist, your success relies on filling the tastes of other people. You can have hundreds of followers and tons of likes, but one bad comment just ruins your day. Why do I care so much? Simple, artists love what we create. We pour ourselves into our art! My photos are my pride and joy. When someone doesn't like an image I've taken or opts for a smaller package, it stings a bit. Can't everyone just like EVERYTHING I produce?
As a portrait photographer, dealing with this especially hard. Just one bad image can ruin a sale. Dealing with this, however, can be easier if you change your mind set. Take every opinion as just that. Listen for constructive criticism, but don't take it personally. A CEO of a large company doesn't look at a slow month and cry that his sales were lower. No! They take the information and improve. Selling art is more personal because it is expressive. Yet, other people DO determine if you can make rent. At the end of the day, creating work that you believe in AND sells is the end goal. Remember, not everyone will like your art and that's ok. They aren't your client. Find those who are.
Someone is ALWAYS Better
Oh boy. This is going to be the hardest thing to admit on record. I have followed dozens if not hundreds of photographers and its the biggest mistake I have made in my entire career. My Facebook, Instagram, actually any social media platform I am active on is continually filled with beautiful photos and ideas and passion that other people post. This constant bombardment of images that surpass my own is like a chocolate fountain that never stops flowing. At first its sweet and manageable. Sure, I'll have some more! What's one more bite? Slowly, the fountain starts to get full and overflow. I try to wipe the edges but more and more flows out and spills all over the floor and creates a mess that would require a cleaning team. There are too many good artists in the world. You could make the argument that being exposed to great work filters your creative eye, which I'll admit is my first excuse. However, eventually, you're only hurting yourself.
I've had many late night conversations with friends and family over this issue. I see an AMAZING photo my friend took and my heart just sinks. Not because they produced great work, but because I didn't. I start to look through my portfolio and compare it to photographers on completely different levels than myself and wonder why I'm not there yet. THE WORST is when people are younger than you and leagues ahead. You start to question everything. Is my taste level bad? Am I editing wrong? Should I even do this as a career?? Then, you get an email. Its an inquiry. From your dream client. She gushes about your work and is so excited to book. She says that after looking through a list of many other photographers that she picked YOU because of an image you were just criticizing as less than perfect.
I do this all the time. Thinking "well my work doesn't look like this so my art is garbage" is a terrible mindset to be in. Social media only makes this harder because there is always someone better than you. How do you fix this?
STOP. Limit yourself to following only the highest quality and most inspiring people to you as an artist. One of my favorite photographers is Sue Bryce, an Australian portrait photographer. When she uploads new work, my heart is full and I'm inspired. I immediately want to go out and create something beautiful. Other artists should push you to create, not hold you back. Great work gives you a bar to strive for, but doesn't bog you down. Another thing is to remember that your art is only yours. Nobody else could have created it the same way and constantly trying to imitate others will only lead to doubt of your God-given talents.
One of the most important things to keep in mind to counter self-doubt is that there are countless jobs in this industry. Even if someone is better than you, they can't shoot every single wedding in the entire state of Texas. No director can work every movie, no chef can serve every meal, and no photographer can take every picture. There will always be another bride, senior, or fashion editor. Continue to create your best work and success will follow in time. Your success is different from anyone else's.
So what are you waiting for? Go create something beautiful.