A Double Edged Sword


Don’t we all have to admit it; that we as photographers or creative persons of some form – at least to some extent – all crave for recognition, one way or another, whether we are professionals 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 recognized 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 ignoring what makes 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 black holes that easily destroy us and the uniqueness that sets us apart as artists. Being true to our inner artist may, if we are lucky, 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 in which I only answer to myself. 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 pictures 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’s not slip into the black whole of vanity.

59 thoughts on “A Double Edged Sword

  1. Yes…the stress success brings..one has to overcome that and it’s far more difficult when it is your livelihood that is at stake…I am often consciously making a point in my photography to follow my heart, but sure am pleased when others like what I do, but that is not the aim of my striving. Good post, Otto.

    1. Yes, it’s hard not to be concerned about success when it’s you living. Still, following your heart is more likely to bring monetary success – if you learn some business skills in addition. 🙂

  2. Thank you for this reflection. Integrity is something I remind myself to maintain when creating something new. I spent years archiving my work until a young mentee asked me to show my work. I chose the biggest platform available to test myself. Nowadays, I ask myself each time I am about to show my work, “Is this gratuitous? Is this me? Do I stand by this?” I often stand away from my work and allow my feelings to settle before making the final decision. Sometimes fear holds me back. But often, it keeps me moving forward. x

  3. Julia Cameron has much inspirational advice in her fabulous book, The Artist’s Way, and now you’ve imparted your wisdom as well. Thanks for your wise words, Otto.

  4. As I am starting to sell my photos now, I find myself thinking when I am out shooting, is this good, would someone like this? And then I decide it doesn’t really matter, I like it, I want that photo, and I will take that shot. If someone appreciates it, great, if not, I have it for me anyway.

  5. Not sure why some of us have an inner, guiding voice that warns us when we aren’t being true to our inner artistic selves but for me, at least, it is present. I know when I am not true to that voice. Do others not know? Excellent subject and post!

  6. Ah, the eternal struggle! Luckily I have little talent in all things so I don’t have to feel this level of angst, but still I like to be true to myself whatever I produce. Thanks Otto.

  7. Oh boy, do I ever “get” this. When I get hung up on money my creativity dies. I get in the way of myself. So I just create and may try to sell it after. Love your photo with the article.

  8. Io ovviamente nemmeno ci penso a premi o riconoscimenti, però quello che hai scritto è una lezione importante dalla quale bisogna prendere spunto e farne tesoro.
    Grazie caro Otto. Saluti, Patrizia

    1. Vedo un sacco di integrità sul lavoro si visualizza sul tuo blog, in modo da ciò che si dice qui non viene come una sorpresa. Grazie per aver condiviso i tuoi pensieri, Patrizia.

  9. Your use of the phrase “double-edged sword” reminded me of an essay written by playwright Tennessee Williams, in which he refers to the plight of a artist reduced to cutting daisies with a sword. The essay is absolutely brililant. I can’t find a good online text now, so I’ll link to an excerpt I used in one of my blogs. Williams’ essay is titled “The Catastrophe of Success, and it touches on precisely the issues you raise here.

  10. Well put Otto, thanks!
    Myself, I am a not-yet-professional photographer who indeed crave(s)d for recognition; but the real reason why I created my website is to force myself to work harder on what I love. Heart is -so far- close to everything in my art, and I hope it will remain so.

    1. I do not think craving for recognition is bad in itself, but if it comes in the way of the creative process, then everything stands to lose. Keep your creativity flowing from your heart. 🙂

  11. Well put. I never sell a photo, but have taken part in more contests than I care to think about – in fact, too many. These things often attain a life of their own, especially in photo clubs. I think I’ll take a break from that.

  12. Great post, Otto. Indeed, the audiences’ love for his creations can trap the artist into creating art that suits the ‘taste’ of the audience, thereby alienating himself from his own creations. Like you said, it is important for the artist to remain true to his own artistic instincts.

  13. It’s the process. Your portrait reminds me of a recent self portrait I tried, putting my face on my printer. A dumb thing to do but the images were interesting.

  14. I share your sentiments Otto and I love Julia Cameron’s words. What truly matters, is for one to be authentic in whatever creative endeavour s/he is in/pursuing – visual and/or written – with the right intention.

    Thank You for this post (^_^)

  15. This is an important post for every artist to consider. An artist creates their work for a reason, whatever it may be. Perhaps it is an expression just for the audience of one (themselves), or perhaps the art itself it created to pay the bills or to express a deep feeling in hopes that resonates with others. Art that is created with the artist’s pure-mind of creativity, tends to be the most satisfying. However as you note, the drive for recognition can overtake the purity of creative process and then while perhaps pushing and achieving limited fame, I would imagine the feeling to be quite hollow. A battle especially true these days with the ease of social media…1,000 likes please 🙂

    1. I agree with you, the cravings for “likes” are just as likable to make art superficial and easily digestible as other cravings for fame and recognition. Thank you for elaborating on the subject.

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