Our Own Way

How do we, who pursue a creative path, find this path, our own path or our own way through the jungle of possible expressions and possibilities? How do we navigate our way through this maze towards something that feels genuinely and authentically ours?

The question came up during a workshop I just taught. One of the younger participants expressed frustration about this struggle to figure out who she is artistically and what her path would be. As such, it’s struggle most artists and creatives grapple with or has grappled with. In fact, we all do, at some point, if not all the time. What we are try to figure out gives cause for much frustration, because the path is not visible from the onset, only when looking back after having walked it.

A week has passed since I got back from my latest photo tour. It took place in the lush and beautiful Nicaragua with participants from both Europe and USA. Always, after an intense week of organizing and teaching a photo tour or workshop, I need time to process the impressions and thoughts from the trip. Among others, has been this question about navigating our path.

My immediate response to the participant was to just walk on. Try different directions; try different approaches, even if you start out feeling blindfolded. If you come across some work from other artists that resonate with you, copy it, try it out yourself. Be open-minded for what may come into your exploration. Be curious, and don’t try to define yourself, who you are and in what direction you need to move artistically, particularly not when you are in the beginning of your creative pursuit. You won’t find your way, it will find you—if you let it.

Imagine a world of only two possible paths to travel. One is the path of reason and certainty. Well trodden, well mapped, it is a path of averages: average pleasures, average pain, average joy, average sorrow. Above all, average results. Along this road, you are certain to experience an aggregate blend, a mean, the middle of what’s possible.

The scond path is your path. Springing from within and obeying your heart’s compass, it is unique to you. Your path isn’t devoid of reason or certainty, but it’s not trapped by them, either. It’s not average because there is no data set to establish an average. Just you. At every intersection, you choose the direction using all your faculties, not just reason: intuition, instinct, heart. This might seem like the risky choice, but it’s far riskier to play it safe. On your path, nothing you do is perfect, but all of it is right. You are doing the best you can with everything you have, in tune with your authentic self. Because of this, nothing you do is ever wasted. Every experience contributes to this journey.

Life is about choices. And so is the creative pursuit. Even when we have no clue about where to go. We just have to start walking in one direction, whichever feels right or just happens to be showing up. Of course and since you don’t know what you are doing, the choice may not be the one for you. That’s OK. If you really aren’t suited to it, you are free to go back to the drawing board. But commit to finishing a few pieces of work before moving on. You will learn something about yourself in the process. Each and every step along the creative path is a step forward; there is no wrong turns for an artist, only branches in a continuing evolution as you learn to express yourself.

What matter is that you start. Start before you are ready. Start with fear. Start with uncertainty. Just start. That’s the only way to go about finding your own path.

Photos are taken during the photo tour in Nicaragua.


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10 thoughts on “Our Own Way

  1. This is wonderfully inspiring, Otto! I had knee replacement surgery about a month ago and am getting my legs back and am envisioning walking on nature trails this summer with my camera in hand. I went out with a friend in her car to a local park and was shaky, literally, and none of my bird shots were focused but it gives me something to work on. The journey starts with a single step.

  2. Wow, that final image, Otto! I love this: “If you come across some work from other artists that resonate with you, copy it, try it out yourself.” I think we all fear being busted for copying someone else’s style. But copying is the most intrinsic learning method of all. It is how infants learn to emote, to speak, to walk. It is also how we develop our character. We see from childhood who we would like to become and then work towards that goal. We will never be absolute copies of our heroes. But through observation, we can find a path the suits us.

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