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.