You Can Do

Pats hage

Allow me to continue the discussion from my last post where I stated that Talent Matters Not. Because, there is a crazy presumption that art is not created by ordinary people but produced by the likes of da Vinci or Beethoven. Assuming that only geniuses produce art is a notion that only leads to self-destruction of any art form. We all have the potential to create art and to be extra-ordinary. If you do not believe this, your path will be riddled and rickety with fear.

If you believe you are «not worthy» of creating, you won’t ever even try, will you? – and you certainly won’t ever experiment, but instead stay rigid and stuck. Experimenting is necessary to develop your creativity. Experimenting means breaking with accepted rules, preconceived ideas and what others might think is the right way. Here we are at the core of something very important. Because what does this «not worthy» mean? Is it in the eyes of others? Is it the public opinion that judges over you? Remember; most great painters were regarded as «not worthy» by their contemporaries.

Hanging yourself on a line to be examined by others is tricky business. If you make yourself vulnerable to every criticism that comes your way, you will impede your freedom to explore your creative potential. Don’t let others tell that you have no artistic talent. Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said: «Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.»

Her message was very simple: Never let anyone discourage you or tell you what to do. I know it’s easy to say. But if you let others take control over your own perception of yourself and how talented you are, you will very soon be so discouraged that all creative activity will complete cease. Art is about whatever uplifts your soul. Don’t clutter this beautiful notion by listening to what «they say». We create with our heart and if we trust ourselves and use the heart as a guide in our creative life, there is no saying how far we can go. Certainly there is no limitation to our creative development and fulfilment.

Of course we cannot live in a vacuum, making art completely unconnected to the rest of the world. But instead of listening to all those, maybe well-meaning critics, we should rather surround ourselves with others who validate us and who will understand the flow of a creative life. Remember what the exceptional singer, Janis Joplin, said: «Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.» Unfortunately she was not able to free herself from others judgment.

Posted in Creativity | Tagged , , | 81 Comments

Talent Matters Not

Kraftig snøfall over Bergen

We often think of talent as an important ingredient in the making of great art. But I think more importantly is work – hard work. What I have been writing about over a couple of posts now – about choosing the hard path and going after you passion – is closely related to effort. I think more imperative than anything else if we want to succeed in art (and probably with everything else in life) is a willingness to work hard. As Albert Einstein put it in his well-known quote: «Genius is one percent talent and ninety-nine percent hard work.»

One remedy – besides passion – encourages creativity more than anything else: Work. It not only encourages, but necessitates. If you don’t put in an effort you will never unfold the full potential of your creativity. You simply cannot sit down and just wait for inspiration or creativity to come upon you. Creativity is not a gift but a duty. A duty to yourself. I strongly believe we all have creativity within us, but most of us need to dig it out. And the only way to really dig it out is by working, by putting time and effort into whatever creative media or expression we are prone to identify ourselves with. What it really means is to work consistently and energetically over a long period of time. For some of us a whole lifetime. Day and day again.

For photographers such as me, work means to photograph. According to Henri Cartier-Bresson «your first 10,000 photographs are your worst». When we take into consideration that he used a film-based camera, inherently much slower than today’s digital cameras, maybe we need to update his quote to your first 100,000 photographs. Or maybe even better; use the so-called 10,000-Hour Rule that Malcolm Gladwell cites in his book Outliers. The rule basically says that if you do anything for 10,000 hours you will become an expert at that thing. Put in a different, simpler and maybe more obvious way, it comes down to the fact that – as a photographer – the more you shoot, the better you become. As simple as that.

«Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.» – Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States.

In something that could be called youthful presumption or cockiness, I trusted my talent when I was younger. I thought I had a talent for photography and that was all I needed. I did win some photo competitions and gained some recognition, and I thought the road to heaven was open to me. Only much later did I realize that nothing had happened, I had gone nowhere since my first embryonic recognition, and photographically I had come to a stand still. I suddenly realized I wasn’t the best photographer in the world – as I had planned to become! The one big mistake I did was not working hard – well, hardly working at all. Trusting my talent as being all I needed became my bane as a photographer in my early years. First many years later did I understand that nothing comes out of nothing – even if you have talent.

«We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.» – Aristotle.

I have come to believe that talent is not important. Yes, it may set the boundaries for our potential as creative persons, but the big majority of us never reach the roof of that potential at all. Maybe Leonardo da Vinci did – or Vincent van Gogh. But us mere mortals? No way – not even if you work the butt off yourself. And that is the good news. It means you can reach as far as you want to creatively, all depending how much work you want to put into the process. You know, art is nothing before you have actually made something. Being creative means actually doing something.

«To the critic art is a noun. To the artist, art is a verb.» – David Baules and Ted Orland in Art & Fear.

Posted in Challenging Yourself, Creativity, Photography | Tagged , , , | 111 Comments

Happy Children

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

© Jennifer Clark

These days I am almost halfway through another teaching of my eWorkshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice.» I already see a nice progress in the work of the participants. Next week they will start on a personal photo project that will last for the rest of the workshop, and traditionally this is when I see the participants start to really bloom. All the more fun then right now, it is to look at the projects from the previous eWorkshop. As you may have noticed already, I have showcased a handful of these personal photo projects over the last couple of weeks already. Today it’s time to show Jennifer Clark’s work. For her personal photo project she chose to focus on what could be called childhood happiness. She did so boldly and with a personal engagement, which is exactly the point with such a project. In her photos you can feel her connections to the children, you can feel how she cares, and you can feel her compassion for them. She catches those small moments in between when just a little gesture makes the whole difference; it could be a shy smile, it could be sly look or it could just be the comfort of sleeping on daddy’s shoulder. Jennifer combines this ability to capture small but significant moments, with a daring use of colours and combinations of colours – often stark and vibrant. For more of her work; look up her blog: Jennifer J. Clark.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography | Tagged , , | 59 Comments

Choose the Hard Path

Bryce (22) og Olivia Undhardt (20) på bryllupsreise til California

There is something with us human being that is almost ingrained in our nature. We tend to take the easy way. Why shouldn’t we? Why make it hard when we can make it easy? I think this most human feature stems from prehistoric times, when we were still hunters and gathers. Life was a struggle – and you had to conserve energy and breath to be able to survive. If you could find something to eat – and enough of it – in the tree next to you, why look for something further away?

Today, though, we live quite a different life. We don’t struggle to find food or survive on a fundamental level – well, the lucky ones of us I should add, those of us who can just go to the store and find what we need, and are able to afford it. I guess we still choose the easy way, it’s just that it’s so much easier compared to when we lived a hunter’s or a gatherer’s life. The big difference, thus, is now it’s actually easy, while it wasn’t back then. The modern, undemanding life doesn’t fill our lives with purpose any more. We need something more. We need to expand and breathe – in a different way. Maybe finding a deeper meaning with life – now that it is so easy to live and survive it and we actually have time to think about it.

This more we are looking for may be finding fulfilling challenges we can grow with – as human beings, as creative beings, as social beings. It may be pursuing our passions as I wrote about in my post last week, Finding Purpose. That is quite a different ball game, though, than finding food to survive another day. If the purpose is growth and expanding of the self, the easy way is no longer an effective strategy.

Instead, if you are pursuing art – or more specifically as is the case for me; photography – choose the hard path. It will make you better at what you do. Don’t go the easy way. It will only lead to the same old boring results. You want to expand and grow, no? The only thing that’s going to be easy is choosing – as hard as it in itself is going to be.

To become good as a photographer – or any kind of artist – and reach the fulfilment I wrote about in the before mentioned post, you have to grow an increasingly stubborn rejection of any notions of shortcuts being available for you. Live by the philosophy of the Buddhist monk, who said he was taught that when two paths diverged in front of him he should take the harder of the two. Robert Frost, the American poet, would say the one less travelled. I suspect it’s less travelled because we’re all looking for shortcuts and forsaking the harder path. But here’s the thing, the shortcuts won’t get us there. It’s the harder path that will make us better artists.

Shortcuts in art lead to clichés and propaganda. They lead to artists more concerned about the end product than what they want to express, and they lead to art that denies a basic truth about humanity. It’s as simple as this: There are no shortcuts for anything we are passionate about. No shortcuts in love, in health, in spirituality, or even the wildly pragmatic world of business. Sometimes there are shortcuts to the local Starbucks, but that’s about it. A pursuit of shortcuts creates shallow art, if art at all.

Moreover, a pursuit of shortcuts does something else. It deeply discourages the growing artist who tries them, and finds them leading nowhere. The shortcut drops the earnest artist in the middle of nowhere, with no map or water, and then vanishes. It leaves us with a sense of «now what?». In the end it forces us to walk back to where we started and make up for lost time on the path we ought to have trod from the beginning.

Art is hard. I think we need to understand that, and at the same time not be discouraged by the fact. Because, as soon as we choose the hard path, we will find it rewarding and fulfilling beyond our imaginations. However, we have to make that first choice. The conclusion? There’s no secret to success or photographic virtuosity – in any arts as a matter of fact, and if there is one it’s this: it’s a long, hard, but gratifying road with no shortcuts. It took me half of my life to figure it out. I thought I could sail down the easy road, but it left me pretty empty handed both as an artist and a human being.

Posted in Challenging Yourself, Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged , , | 78 Comments

Delightful Decay

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

© Nancy de Flon

Nancy de Flon makes decaying, rundown, abandoned, ugly, dilapidated, uninhabitable, shabby buildings into captivating, beautiful and almost exquisite imagery. That’s what she did for her personal photo project when she attended my eWorkshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice» last autumn. In her photos, there are no visible signs of living beings, but they are still very much present – more from the lack of human traces or remnants than anything else is. Yes, the buildings are obviously man-made, but man (or woman) has long since deserted them all. Now they are standing there left to perish, as crumbling shadows of former glory – if ever the buildings had anything glorified about them, in open cityscape or in serene landscapes as monument to human folly. Whether Nancy captures details of the repulsiveness or takes in the whole view of a rundown building in her photos, she does it with a strong sense of awareness, with a skilful and sharp approach. Light is an important part of the contradictory beauty in her images, as is her discernment of composition. For more of her photo, please look up Nancy de Flon’s Photo Blog.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography | Tagged , , | 70 Comments

Finding Purpose

Munchow_1678-1594_E

I don’t want to say that I have found the purpose, or meaning, of life – my life that is. Nevertheless, I have found what makes it worth living – again for me. I deliberately emphasizes for me, because what makes sense to me won’t necessarily – or most likely – make sense to others. This much I can say, though; if we were all able to live out our passions, a lot of us would certainly feel happier and more fulfilled.

As I wrote two weeks ago in my post Pursuing Passion, I have done exactly that, pursued my passion for photography, journalism and travel. When I combine the three, I lose myself into a different and much more intense way of living, I feel alive and vibrant; I am almost constantly in flow. Of course, it doesn’t only happen when I travel or photograph or produce a story, it can happen when I am listening to music, or I may find flow when writing or when reading – or it may occur in encounters with people I connect to. The point is we find flow when we do things we love to do.

In the before mentioned post I referred to the book The Element by Ken Robinson. Robinson is kind of a creative expert – an English author, speaker and advisor on education in the arts, and he often challenges the way we are educating our children. One of his main points is that the educational system should encourage the students to pursue their passions, more than just follow a prescribed and – for many students – boring curriculum. If students could find their passions and be encourage to pursue them – professionally, a lot more people would feel they are living a meaningful life, not only when off from work, but all the time; indeed, their work would be a fulfilment of its own, not just something to make a living of. Robinson’s argument is that there is a powerful driving force inside every human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, any dream, a reality. That is The Element, which he writes about in his book. Robinson uses it as a term that describes the place where things we love to do and the things we are good at come together – as I mentioned in my post Pursuing Passion.

Some people may feel passionate for a range of activities and may be really good at them. Others may have a singular passion they can thrive with, that fulfils them far more than anything else does. No matter what, when people are in this place that Robinson calls the element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of self-revelation, of defining whom they really are and what they are really meant to do with their lives. This is why many of the people in The Element, who Robinson writes about, describe finding this element as an epiphany.

The big question is; how do we find this element in ourselves? How do we discover the passion that, if pursued, will make us good – and will give us this fulfilment I am talking about?

I quoted this in my before mentioned post from Robinson’s book: «The Element has two main features, and there are two conditions for being in it. The features are aptitude and passion. The conditions are attitude and opportunity. The sequence goes something like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it?»

I Get It. An aptitude is a natural capability for something. It is an intuitive feel or a grasp of what that thing is, how it works, and how to use it. Our aptitudes are highly personal. They may be for general types of activity, like math, music, sport, poetry, or political theory. They can also be highly specific – not music in general, but jazz or rap, just as an example. But how do I get or disover what I could be good at? This is maybe the hardest part of finding this place that gives fulfilment in life. Anyone who has been in the state of flow, though, know something about his or her natural aptitude. Some discover what they good at as kids. If you don’t know yet your aptitude, maybe looking back into childhood memories can unleash it again. Or maybe someone who knows you very well, can point you into a direction. An important point here is; it’s never too late to pursue one’s passion. There are plenty of examples of people who find their call late in life.

I Love It. Being in your element is not only a question of natural aptitude. It needs something more. Passion. People who are in their element take a deep delight and pleasure in what they do. They do it because they love – and couldn’t imaging doing anything else.

I Want It. Attitude is our personal perspective on ourselves and our circumstances. People who love what they do, often describe themselves as lucky. People who think they are not successful in their lives, often say they have been unlucky. According to Robinson, high achievers often share similar attitudes, such as perseverance, self-belief, optimism, ambition and frustration.

Where Is It? Without the right opportunities, you may never know what your aptitudes are or how far they may take you. There aren’t many bronco riders in Antarctic, or pearl divers in the Sahara Desert. Aptitudes don’t necessarily become obvious unless there are opportunities to use them. Often we need other people to help us recognize our real talents. An often we can help others discover theirs. I found my aptitude for photography because a good friend of mine purchased a camera when we were in our teens and got me infatuated with photography as well. Another friend made me subscribe to a photo magazine, which eventually spurred my interest even more.

What are you passionate about? What kind of activities makes you feel most alive and in touch with yourself? I would love to hear more about it.

Posted in Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , | 109 Comments

Urban Life

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

© Mike Mills

For his personal photo project during the previous eWorkshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice» I taught last autumn, Mike Mills, chose to focus on the modern opera house in Oslo. This opera house is situated right by the waterline and what most of all characterizes the architecture is the inclined rooftop that is open for the public to explore. While Mike photographed the opera house from all angles and in so doing both captured fascinating details and beautiful overall views, the strongest images came out of delving into the interaction between people and the building. He explored both traditional angles as well as seeking out new ways of framing the images. His photos are full of life and delight; making the viewers almost physically feel the visitors joyfulness and awe in their encounter with this very special architecture. The people in his photographs are not only extras in an interesting movie, but form a symbiotic relationship with the building they are exploring. It’s almost as one cannot exist without the other.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography | Tagged , , , | 53 Comments