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 the pictures sell or not, whether they 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 is what makes it exciting. Let’s not confuse it with money or fame. Let’s not slip into the black whole of vanity.


51 thoughts on “A Double Edged Sword

  1. You’re right Otto, it’s a double edged sword. I think it’s human nature to crave validity and seek acknowledgment of our craft. But I’d like to think we’re driven mostly by our passions and desire to create. Finding balance in what we love.

  2. i continue with my photoblog because of the friends i have made in the comment section, they give me all the ‘recognition’ i need 🙂 i don’t mean to make light of that … when i used to run a gallery, a dozen years or so ago, i wasn’t interested in it since it didn’t have comments and felt very lonely…

  3. Yes, the right cause is hard to follow especially if we also depending on the returns needed to live on. I think this is a fact for other profession as well.

    1. Living of something is one thing, and sure getting recognition then helps. But I still hope it’s not the driving force for what we do. Not the only one at least.

  4. I can’t help but think if we had all the money we needed, how would we create then? What would we produce? I try, every day, to work from that mindset. But, alas, we do still want to be seen and heard. Because although I love to create for myself, sharing it with the world is what gives me joy and purpose. Yes, a double edged sword for sure. 😔

    1. At least sharing is so much easier in the days of social media. But I agree with your approach. Even if we need to make money, what is we really want to create – beyond the money?

  5. Your words, Otto, are really very touching and I am afraid that, unfortunately, many people or so called artists, would consider money more important than the inner feeling of really having to express a certain thought!

    1. It’s unfortunately part of the commercialization of the whole world. Money is the measurement in itself. I see it in a lot of modern art, which is all about provoking or stirring up the public, all for attention seeking purposes – and making money.

  6. So true. I need to create for the right reasons and the rest is a bonus. Although earning a living is important, I have heard a lot of artists say they do “their own thing” outside of their job. One feeds the pocket, the other feeds the soul.

    1. That I think is how most artists work, I believe. That’s certainly the way I make a living out of my photography, although I also try to bring my vision into the commercial part of it and be true to myself as much as possible.

  7. During the lockdown I took The Artist’s Way. It sparked an epiphany and serendipity. Its meant to allow the individual (in combination with group interaction) to go on a journey and dig deeper into the creative process: what is working and what needs inspection. I highly recommend it. If anyone is interested, I can recommend an instructor.

    1. I have done the Artist’s Way a couple of time, and I totally agree with you. Happy to hear that you have set out on a course to evolve as a creative person (not the least since I have noticed you haven’t posted anything on your blog for quite a while).

  8. Good words, difficult to add something. I fully agree. Easier for me being a pure amateur. I’m the only one to satisfy. Or at least to try to satisfy. And if some friendly readrers of my blog appreciate my work and leave a comment it is a good feeling.

  9. Excellent blog Otto. It seems when you get some recognition for an image, you begin to feel the pressure to keep producing something just as good for viewers or clients. It does seem like a vicious circle.

    1. Indeed, I can be a vicious circle, or downward spiral. There is a saying “don’t change a winning hand”. It might work in tennis, but I don’t think for creative pursuits.

  10. Hi, Otto. Thank you so much for this insightful post. I really needed to read this because I relate to it. I need to remind myself to stop relying on external validation and to just be true to my inner “artist.”

  11. You are absolutely correct, Otto. I’ve known a few people in my life who were indeed talented, but their craving for commercial success seemed to diminish their creative output. For one thing, being too focused on garnering attention can lead to making comparisons between our own work and others. I really like Julia Cameron’s approach and think she’s done a lot to encourage the creativity in all of us.

  12. Quite true, there is a balancing acting between creating for others and creating for yourself. I’m sure it’s a tougher teeter-totter for professionals; as an amateur I can put whatever whim I feel like out there and suffer nothing worse than being ignored – and maybe a small slap across the ego. For a pro it could affect the next meal. But even as a pro, if you can’t do it in a way that brings contentment, why do it?

  13. Impossibile darti torto, come sempre è un piacere leggerti, proprio perché sei molto equilibrato e onesto nell’esporre quello che pensi.
    Un grande saluto, Patrizia

  14. I agree Otto, it’s important to us to feel that what we share and feel passionate about is liked by those who see it . I think that can become too important and we might begin to work towards that end without realizing it is affecting what we are doing until it is not really coming from a place that is uniquely ours. Thank you for the wonderful insight.

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