Don’t Get Eaten by the Shark

Don’t we all have to admit it; that we – at least to some extent – all crave for recognition, one way or another, whether we are professional creatives or pure amateurs? But don’t we all also know that recognition is a double edged sword? On one hand, yes, it’s nice to get recognised for the work we do, for our effort, but the flip side of the coin is when recognition becomes the driving force for our creativity. Then we stand to lose it, the uniqueness of our vision and expression. What one day may lead to recognition is the very same attitude that doesn’t make us crave it. That’s the only way we can create from our heart. Without heart and without ourselves invested in our creative work, it only becomes an act of deceit and thus has no artistic or creative value.

What do we actually take for recognition? Money? Fame? Both – when talking about creativity – are sharks that easily destroy us and the uniqueness that sets us apart as artists. Being true to our inner artist may often result in work that sells or gain recognition – but often not. If money determinates what is good art, neither Paul Gaugain nor Vincent van Gogh were artists worth our attention. But despite lack of recognition, fame and money in their time, they kept doing what they felt they were meant to do. Their creativity flourished and had to be expressed, it wasn’t depending upon recognition. Only by doing what comes from inside of us, without second thoughts to money or fame, may we be true artists, be true to ourselves. It doesn’t matter if we are professionals or amateurs. Still the professional is often caught up in the money-game since after all he or she is making a living out of a creative field. Thus for them it’s even more important to protect their own integrity and their inner artist. Often enough I may have to make my editors happy by doing what they want me to do, but still I try to bring my own vision into the equation. Sometimes it won’t work, but then I can always fall back on my own personal projects that only answer to me. And even if amateurs don’t create for money, they can still fall into the trap of recognition and fame. We all want it – in one way or another, no?

As Julia Cameron writes in her book The Artist’s Way: «I must learn that as an artist my credibility lies with me, God, and my work. In other words, if I have a poem to write, I need to write that poem – whether it will sell or not. I need to create what wants to be created.»

The same goes for photographers. Our vision needs to be expressed, whether it sells as picture or not, whether it will bring us fame or not. The joy is really to feel how our vision – our true creativity – becomes reality, becomes expressed. That is the biggest fulfilment, the ultimate satisfaction. The creative process in itself it what makes it exciting. Let’s not confuse it with money or fame. Let the sharks stay out of our personal pond.


46 thoughts on “Don’t Get Eaten by the Shark

  1. Otto
    Very well said and written. I am dealing with this right now. How to keep the sharks away and just do the creative work I feet inspired to create. I love your insight on photography and I enjoy this blog which helps keeps what is important out in front instead of behind you.

  2. There are many moments in my life, when I use my own, well trodden, adage “I wish I’d said that”, and this is one of those times, Otto.
    Thanks for sharing your wise words, Otto.

  3. I so much agree with you! However, professionals often have to face the music and sell themselves to sell their work. After all one has to pay the rent somehow. It often seems as if only the pros who have husbands / wives / lovers / parents for support can really stay away from the sharks indefinitely while still having the time to do what they do professionally. It doesn’t matter what you do, photography, writing, music, in the end it matters whether the society recognizes your efforts. If not you will have to do your work in the few hours when you’re too knackered from your day job. Or you have to do it against the odds of nobody being interested in your work, which is psychologically well able to kill all creativity before it is expressed. It’s definitely a difficult subject …

  4. Of course, you are so right here.
    You develop the theme of money fully, and it is vital for all those who have to earn their living.
    I haven’t been the main breadwinner in our marriage, so I am fortunate that way. But the other trap, the lure of “fame”, can (and frequently does) do me in so completely the well totally dries up, and it takes extraordinary time, effort, and angst to get it flowing again. Probably more than half of my creative life has been dissipated that way.
    Your metaphor is even better; the creativity gets swallowed whole by the shark. And even though I know what is happening — that doesn’t prevent it.
    I’ll take this post as an encouragement to stop,recognize, let go, and begin again to swim free.

  5. I guess I’m a bit of a realist since I recognize that because of my way of working artistically I would never be able to produce enough product fast enough to totally support me, even if every scrap of it sold. So for decades I have had my day job and my art job, and the two get along just fine. Maybe it’s a zen attitude or something, but I don’t fight with my life, I just do what needs to be done. Sometimes I’ll rearrange one schedule to accommodate the other, but that’s life, isn’t it?

  6. Glad to see this post. One of the reasons I created my blog is to explore creativity without goals. Sometimes we just have to see what happens. I too am reading a Julia Cameron book, “Vein of Gold.”
    I have two quotes on my blog:
    The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~ Julia Cameron

    Painters must want to paint above all else. If the artist in front of the canvas begins to wonder how much he will sell it for, or what the critics will think of it, he won’t be able to pursue original avenues. Creative achievements depend on single-minded immersion. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  7. I perfer to combine that which is my passion with flashier more
    fleeting works, so that hopefully someone may give my more
    personal masterpeices a chance when they see
    what I’m capable of.

    If I ever become famous, i’ll advise my fans not to
    trust their better work to publishing companies, use
    something your not attached to, that you feel isen’t so
    valueable – I’ve recently found that the world is full of
    books that lost their chance to be great when business
    people ruined their own profits by giving in to their egos.
    (Not that you can’t benifit from the advice of professionals,
    sometimes they are right, but not where origionality is
    often concerned.)

    For the sake of future generations – get a day
    job and produce real products on your spare
    time – it’s not a hobby, it’s a nessissity in world
    filled with Schlock. I speak as writer, illistrator,
    but mostly as a bored reader who demands
    to be entertained.

  8. Better to be pulled to do something that is meaningful to oneself than to do something you think might be noticed. Sometimes you can observe that transition in the body of work for a particular artist…..they start out genuine and true but as time goes on there is a subtle shift that seems to indicate they are no longer in contact with who they are. And, of course, I’ve also seen the opposite—sometimes artists hit the bigtime in a popular fashion and not until much later do they resonate a more far-reaching depth. Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  9. Here are great many good comments and well thought-of insights about the topic. I think we all have our own way of dealing with the sharks in the creative waters. Whether we chose to make a living out of our creative passion or chose to make a living some other way to be “free”, in the end it comes down to the same thing. Neither of us do this to become rich, there would be so many better options if that was the case. If you seek money you would be much better of as a ruthless lawyer, a corrupt politician or a unscrupulous trader on wall street for instance. We do our creative business because we have an intention with it, we want to achieve some higher goal.

    experimentsinexperience: Yes many artists who try to make a living will have to sell themselves. But in the end they still need to find a way to get the true artist to speak out at least if they want to stay in touch with their creative well. Most professional will have to make compromises, but still what you usual get hired for is your personal vision – even if the client don’t actually buy that when he or she assigns you. Thus some chose to make a living by other means to be able to stay “free” as artists so that they don’t have to compromise. Even if nobody shows interest in your work, if you stay true to your own vision, the pure joy of expressing this original vision in itself will make sure your creativity won’t get killed. I believe.

    Alli Farkas: If you can make this work for you, having your day job and your art job, that is just great. I definitely don’t think you need to fight with your life.

    Fergiemoto: Thanks for the two quotes by Julia Cameron and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi respectively. Both right to the point.

    rastelly: I have found that a great many professionals have a passionate attitude towards creative work, but yes, there is always a chance involved when commercial interests take over.

    Thank you everybody so far for your wonderful contribution to the discussion.

  10. At times I become lost in the “sharkness” of the world paying people enormous amounts of money to make more money while those who feed souls struggle and work hard at buying the supplies or equipment needed to express that soul. Or eat.

    I was a career person until I did not have to work any longer. Now I write what and when I want. I am extremely grateful for the internet. It would break my heart having to be rejected by 50 publishers and still have no hope of being read or heard.

    It makes me remember the strength and depth of our passion.

  11. “Our vision needs to be expressed, whether it sells as picture or not, whether it will bring us fame or not. The joy is really to feel how our vision – our true creativity – becomes reality, becomes expressed. ” Words of wisdom filled with passion for the craft.
    A lot of times it is easy to get caught up with the false gratification that recognition brings. It feels good to be complimented but as you said it is a two edge sword. I think a true artist who loves his/her work will express that creativity no matter what because that is what makes him/her feel complete. When we follow that inner calling, we find happiness that no money can buy. An amazing post my friend. Thank you for sharing .

  12. Happiness is a whole new and interesting theme. What is happiness? The island traveler, you indicate that happiness is not something that can be bought be money. I would certainly agree. Not trying to open this vast theme of discussion, but true happiness is exactly everything that cannot be bought. It can be the creative experience as we talk about it here, it can be love, it can be the joy of the moment, it can be the first snow fall, it can be rain, it can be peace, it can be your sons or daughters. And interesting book, if I may recommend about this is Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth. Souldipper, I think you have found happiness, if I may be allowed to say so, in that you are able to create and publish your work without any other considerations than your own creative voice. That is what most of us strive for.

  13. Wonderful blog. I really enjoyed my time here. Hope to read such wonderful posts from you.
    And thanks a lot for visiting my blog & liking my post. Hope to see you in my blog too.

  14. First-time visitor here. Well done!!! I appreciate this line: “Only by doing what comes from inside of us” … That line is so applicable across all fields as many are driven from within … not for fame and/or recognition or money …. but from an inner power, an inner pride of wanting to do well.

  15. Thanks for stopping at my blog. I had a very dear colleague who had a home in Unset, Norway. It’s a story I posted early on in my blog. I laugh because as a New Yorker, I have a world view from a different perspective. I arrived in Unset. It was a mere dot on the map. In fact the entering/leaving sign was used on both sides. But it was a wonderful experience. Norway is so beautiful. I’ll continue to follow your posts. All the best.

  16. So well said, Otto! Having to work in a scientific, non-artistic field in order to feed my body, I’ve always had something to feed my soul. Having to worry about selling one’s art would put such a burden on creativity and take the fun out of it for me. I so admire those who are able to make a living from their passion. Please keep making time for these inspiring, thought-provoking posts. It helps ease the burden by realizing that these are shared feelings. Have a great day!

  17. This is wonderfully written and explained, dear Otto Von. I agree with you. First of all what we create, should make us happy… As you meant, should come from our heart… Once again the word “happiness” is here… Creativity is something you try to translate your soul, your heart, your mind… There is one sun but there are millions people who showing us millions sun…. Thank you, it is always so nice to read your articles, with my love, nia

  18. “Only by doing what comes from inside of us, without second thoughts to money or fame, may we be true artists, be true to ourselves.”– That is so true! I always tell that to my friends. Just be true to yourself because it is then that you can be true to others. Very nice blog!

  19. Thanks for bringing more input to the discussion. KarenAnn, I would believe scientific work also requires creative thinking – at least at times. Niasunset, yes, we all add up to a whole universe of suns – we can shine each on our own – as well as shine on each other. Rob, the few blessed ones are those for which their work is creative, and they are able to express it freely. Victor, what do you mean, mere dot, I though Norway was the centre of the earth?

  20. Reading this post confirmed what I, just this morning decided. I must create, and be true to my need for expression no matter what. Whether it sells, or it doesn’t I need to create and create I will. Thanks for the thoughtful post on the topic. Sharks keep out!

  21. I can always use a well written reminder of this. No chance I will get caught up in fame and fortune. But, it is amazing how deviously we can be sidetracked by marketing questions even when we think we have a handle on this. I was fortunate to make a living at another passion for multiple decades. This time around, it is just for me. I love producing work that speaks to people, but first it has to be for me. Thanks for a terrific reminder and, in the future, I will keep an eye out for the shark.

  22. evervescence posted a link to this blog post on my facebook wall, and I’m very glad she did. I just posted my latest short story the other day, and as expected, I only got a few takers. The biggest thing wasn’t the confirmation that maybe I’m not worthy of fame, but that most of my own family couldn’t find the time to read what I’d written. At least Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, supported his work.

    There has to be a balance, some sort of middle-ground where we can have that image of the perfect struggling artist and still let them know that we appreciate their work.

  23. Of course we crave recognition. Isn’t that one of the basic tenets of living? Even more so sometimes than food. We all want to be loved…..beautiful post here. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Thanks for a refreshing perspective, Otto. The only observation I have from my personal experience is that, while I don’t need fame or fortune to continue exercising my creativity, I DO need an audience. Would I continue to come up with a new photo and caption every weekday if no one visited my blog? No. Although I have tremendous fun with my blog, I need to know that others find it fun to visit. Ultimately, I am a creative person who needs attention.


    1. Of course we all want an audience, we certainly don’t want to be artists in a vacuum. But if you start to cater to an audience, that’s when you take the wrong way. One can only hope that an audience is interested in what’s coming from our heart.

  25. A wonderful blog and one that strikes a cord with me! A few of my friends wonder why I spend so much time on this “hobby” rather than finding ways to make photography an income-producing source. They wonder why I’m not hiring myself out for wedding photos or studio work. That’s all fine and good, but I have never wanted to turn my passion into a J-O-B, and that’s exactly what it would become if my focus turned from the creative to the financial. As for fame, that’s a whole ‘nother shark with very sharp teeth! Rather than fame, I think we all crave that bit of validation and/or recognition for our achievements, talents and character. That’s human nature and, for an artist, important feedback for how we are doing…

  26. Just discovered your blog and I just love it!
    Thank you for sharing your life, your thoughts, your pictures.
    And especially, thank you for the reminder with the quote ‘I need to create what wants to be created’. I think we all struggle with that. You have made a positive difference in my life today. Thank you for that!

  27. Hello! Thanx for visiting my blog, I love this article! I really identify with the message of this post. I believe no matter what money you make or don’t make, creating what you want to from your heart as an artist is what matters most! Also, never throw anything away, keep all your art even if you don’t sell them right away. The first drawing I ever sold was a picture of a woman bleeding from her face with stigmata. A lady in London bought it and she loved it! Sometimes the unusual sells more than the generic. You never know who is going to like your stuff!

  28. Otto, your thoughts and observations on this subject are precisely correct. We do tend to yearn for recognition, payment–some kind of validation of the worth of what we do as photographers.
    It seems to be a very natural part of life. Yet, we do need to be true to our own unique vision and we need to keep on “birthing” and refining our ideas. We need to determine what it is that we seek to convey and see that our ideas come to the light of day in a persuasive way. You’ve said it wonderfully. Thank you. I appreciate your visit to my photo site.

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