Engaged and Detached at the Same Time

Gjennom den lille og trange Golden Canyon
As creative individuals we all—more or less—indentify ourselves with the work we generate. We view the work—rightly—as an extension of ourselves. Yet it’s important to understand that we cannot become the work. The work—already from the beginning of its creation—sets out on a “life” of its own. It’s not us any more, if nothing else because everybody else will not see the work as the same as us. But more importantly, if we become too attached to our work, we will not be able to make it come to its full blossom. In many ways it may be compared to the having a child. Our children are not ours and they are certainly not us, although they are created by us.

I have previously written about the need for passion in the creative process. But it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not the passion for the final product I have in mind, but passion for the process—and passion for whatever it is that we want to express. Thus, when it comes to the work itself, we must maintain a critical distance, and be capable of a more objective relationship with the content of our efforts.

This detachment is a form of freedom: We enter into a real dialogue with our materials and ideas, rather than a fragile and trembling co-dependency with the natural results of our efforts. The work comes from us, or through us; it’s not of us. This is an important distinction to recognize if we hope to continue on the creative path. We wish to attune ourselves to the process, engage our energies as deeply as possible, and allow the work to emerge as the by-product, the child, of a mature relationship between ourselves and our materials. It is thus fair to say that we need to be both engaged and detached at the same time during the creative process.

On a different note: Unfortunately I have not been able to catch up with all comments on my last post, and neither been able to visit any other blogs the last week. It’s just been to busy, but I promise I will get back to you all.

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59 thoughts on “Engaged and Detached at the Same Time

  1. Great description – both visually & in words! Time the time and we all will benefit! Breathe💟💟💟

  2. I think I needed this post. You’ve said things I needed to hear in a way I could hear it. Thanks 🙂 I hope whatever you’re busy with is creative and lucrative for you. I’ll look forward to seeing what you’ve been creating.

  3. Great point, passion about the process to produce work is thing that keep your work going, it fuels you to keep doing, creating , dreaming .. Completely agreed!

  4. Detachments as freedom really makes sense to me! I can easily understand why the tension between detachment and engagement would be the goal. It isn’t quite as easy for me to know how to do that, but i really respect your knowledge and experience, Otto, and in that it’s worth the practice and experimentation.

  5. I had to laugh a bit at the statement “Yet it’s important to understand that we cannot become the work” ~ for as much as I understand this, my work has been stealing larger and larger pieces of my life 🙂 While running a bit of a tangent to your thought, becoming work (in any field0 does nothing but clutter the mind and in the end inhibits passion. If we have passion, then things take care of themselves. A Daoist thought in many ways, let nature (passion) take over and things (work) will be accomplished.

  6. I like the thought that a work has a life of its own. The creator may have captured successfully what he/she wishes to express but the receiver will approach the work with a different assemblage of life experiences that may lead to a somewhat different interpretation. It is a ripple effect that will be constantly changing according to the .audience’.

    1. Indeed, that is my point. As long as our creative work can stir some response in the audience, it’s good. But we don’t have – and should not have – any control of how they react.

  7. One of your sentences reminded me of this passage from Kahlil Gibran:

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    A step beyond the distinction between a work and its creator takes us to the realm of derivative work. Many authors have been disappointed of ever appalled by the movies made from their books.

  8. Life (and work) takes precedence, Otto, and I’m always flattered and delighted that you make time to visit me. Thanks so much for that 🙂 🙂

  9. Otto, it is always wonderful to find written and visual work that resonate with us and inspire. You have a lot of amazing photography and inspiring post here. Thank you for introducing me to your blog.

  10. A little known fact it’s that Michelangelo smashed his Pieta to pieces in a rage, we know mostly the apocryphal story of hitting his Moses on the knee and commanded: Now speak!
    Actuality, someone vandalized it.
    And yet Michelangelo did actually slam down his hammer on the Duomo Pietà, his last great statue, in just such an access of rage. And he didn’t stop beating away at—crushing—the beautiful statue on which he had been working off and on for months, maybe years, until he had ruined it for good.
    Months later, at the insistence of a servant of his, he gave it away to a rich man who had been begging him for a figure; and Michelangelo didn’t even object to a bad sculptor’s plan to repair and finish it. He had stopped loving it and its future love affairs didn’t concern him anymore.
    I guess that when we create something, an artist for example knows a work of art has a live of it’s own, like our children who do as they please, not as we want.
    Even writing, I mostly intended when answering this, to say a few words, and here I am telling you a whole story, I apologize for it.
    Great post, Otto. 🙂

    1. No apologies necessary. Your words are always interesting to read. I didn’t know the account of Michelangelo. And, yes, particularly words can take a life of their own…

  11. More great points to ponder. As photographers it’s easy to become too attached when the moment has affected us deeply. But how is the moment conveyed to others, in a ‘life of its own’ is the question I often think about.

      1. Exactly. That insight goes far to explain why certain of my posts don’t stir the response I expected. Absent the context of the creative process itself, an image has to stand on its own. The trick is to find a way to distill the experience into the image. I suspect that’s what moves craft into the realm of art.

  12. Wonderful comparisons and descriptions, Otto. It has taken me a long time to learn how to detach from what I do (and there are times when I’m still learning that lesson!). Thank you. This was thought-provoking and inspiring. 🙂

  13. I once advised an even newer writer than myself to maintain the kind of critical distance you mention. I didn’t quite know what I meant at the time, but I said something like, “Love your work, but judge it with the eye of a stranger.” If we can do both, we’re on our way to improvement.

  14. I totally approve of your words. Art does not aim at the “reproducibility” of an experience as is often the case in science, but the need to produce an experience each time. The process is always a bit mysterious though. We may never be able to describe the creative process perfectly because of its complexity. How does the creative idea arise in the mind of the artist and then embody in an object, be it a painting, a sculpture or a photo? You say it very well. Passion is a guiding thread of the process and leads to a better understanding of the forces and mechanisms that fuel creation. Bravo for this inspiring post, Otto.

    1. You point to a major difference between science and art. Passion is indeed a fundament for any true creative process. Thank you so much for the lovely feedback, Dominique.

      1. My pleasure, Otto. Sorry for not blogging much these days. I am busy with friends visiting me in Montreal. Lots of creativity happening this week… And fun!

  15. Our works ARE like our children. But like Kahlil Gibran said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you…

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