Learn to Live with Self-Doubt and Fear

Self-doubt. Fear. Insecurity. Inadequacy. Not being good enough. Marginalization. Disempowerment. Depression. Despair. Cynicism. Egotism. Have you ever felt your artistic attempts are not good enough? You feel you lack talent and can’t express what you really want?

Trust me when I say we all do. Even the best and most talented artists do. It’s part of being creative and as such, I believe it’s actually a good sign. If you didn’t doubt yourself and your creative attempts, it only shows that you are standing still and not challenging yourself. As I have written many a time, challenging yourself is crucial for all creative development.

Here is the thing: Trying to express ourselves creatively in any art form, will place us squarely in the sights of our fears, doubts, and insecurities. It reflects back to the inherent quality of any creative art and their insistent necessity on going inward. Remember, in art, we express ourselves. Our only hope to be successful in art, any art form, is to learn to be unerringly what we are, flaws and all. We cannot destroy our demons all at once, but can accept our circumstances as part of our unique identity.

Everything that you are is fodder for your creative work. Do not run; do not hide from your gifts, your shortcomings, and your background. Make them part of your creative approach.

Each of us arises from our own blend of circumstances and has unique gifts. There is nothing new under the sun to art. Therefore, your unique vision and expression can only grow authentically from yourself. There’s no one else on earth with your particular mixture of talents, gifts, obstacles, fears, inadequacies, and unique insights.

Words from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind. In his book Letters to a Young Poet, he writes: “You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart.”

From this quote, you can substitute “write” with any artistic pursuit that refers to you. Go into yourself, no matter what you do. With that comes self-doubt and fear. But it’s part of who and what you are.

Thus, take a hold of your vision. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t try to be good, just try to be real. Each person has some genuine place of genius in their constitution, and you are not going to find it by trying to please others: teachers, parents, admission committees, or peers. Trust your own process. Take responsibility for everything that you are or are not. Your joys, struggles, trials and tribulations, longings, obsessions, and passions are all fair game for your creative exploration.


Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
Now that the world seems to return to some normalcy and slowly opens up again, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops hope to get our photos workshops going again.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Creativity Is Being Alive

Have you pondered about why you have this desire to create? In asking, I take it you are pursuing creativity in one form or another—otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. I also presume you find some pleasure in creative endeavours, again, in whatever shape and form you fancy.

Plenty enough people think that art and creativity is for pleasure only. It’s something some people do when they have enough time to spare and don’t need to brawl for survival. It’s an activity out of luxury. Those who create do it for some pretentious urge of self-expression. These people may think the world would go on without art and creativity for its own sake.

I think not. I think being creative satisfies a basic instinct in most people—if they haven’t shut that door completely down. Yes, biologically, our basic needs are threefold and quite mundane. Being able to find food, having a habitat to thrive in and, finally, being able to reproduce. However, there is more to life than these bare needs. One such is the drive to make.

When I create, I am happy. But it’s more than that. I feel in touch with something bigger. I immerse myself in a sea of ideas and inspirations and a void of unlimited wonders—a path in which nothing is fixed or set. Everything is possible. What more is, something tangible comes out on the other side. In creating, I make something, something of which is all my making. It makes me feel alive. I live when I make.

Why are human beings driven to make?


There is a mundane answer, which is we need to expand and develop—which we do by making—in order to survive the threatening world we find ourselves in, whether back when we were hunter-gatherers and needed to protect ourselves from saber-toothed tigers or now as the contemporary human needing to solve the climate crisis (albeit induced by ourselves).

But there is something more fundamental to it.

Since the beginning, the universe has bend towards entropy—ever more chaos and disorder. Every act of creation on our part is an act of defiance in the face of that evolving disorder. It’s almost like an intuitive response, long before science gave us the language to understand what universe and entropy mean.

When we pick up a paintbrush, or compose elements through our camera viewfinders, or press fingers into wet clay to wrestle form from a shapeless lump, we are bending things back toward Order and wrestling them from Chaos.

There is satisfaction in making this Order. But making things is often not enough in and of itself.

We also want the things we make to be filled with meaning. We’re each trying to describe what we know about life, to create a collective sense of “safety in numbers.” When we reach the end of our traditional descriptive powers, it’s time to weave meaning from poetry, painting, writing, dancing, photographing, filmmaking, storytelling, singing, animating, designing, performing, carving, sculpting, and a million other ways we daily create Order out of the Chaos and share it with each other for a deeper and more fluid understand.

Finding “the meaning in the making” is the ultimate fulfilment. That’s bliss and that’s when we feel alive more than ever. Thus, keep creating!

Art – What is Art?

Munchow_1238-202-E

I often get asked how I would define “art”. What is art as far as I see it? Of course, it is an almost impossible task to write what art is in an absolute sense. Much sharper intellectuals than me have tried to define what art is. Nevertheless, I should still be able say something about how I understand the word and look upon art.

For me, what is and what isn’t art, isn’t a clearly defined line, though. There are no unconditional criteria. For me, art certainly does not involve an elitist understanding. An artist does not have to have an art education for the work to be called art, he or she does not have to express herself or himself within the classical art genres—or, on the other hand, having to be part of the avant-garde scene. There are no limitations for subjects art can deal with, the work does not have to be manifested into a physical object; and it certainly does not have to hang in galleries. Street art and street performers can be doing art just as much as a traditional trained painter or musician can.

Art surely isn’t something defined by a selected few connoisseurs or experts, by those who partake in the contemporary dialogue or discourse about art. Anyone have the right to define art as they want to, even if they don’t have an art education, even if they don’t understand the latest trends in art.

Maybe it’s easier to say something about what art is not, rather than what it is. However, at the bottom of it all lays a capability to touch our emotional sensations. For me, art also needs to challenge conventional thoughts. After all, creativity, which is where art originates from, means bringing into life, or bringing something new into existence. Art that repeats whatever already is isn’t art any longer. Vincent van Gogh was a groundbreaking artist, but if everybody afterwards imitated his style, that work by his successors would not be art any longer, no matter how good it might have been, on a technical level.

This much said about the non-repetitiveness of art, I want to add that, although art constantly changes and develops, just because something has come out of fashion, doesn’t mean it isn’t art any longer. Some time ago I came across some very interesting thoughts by the blogger Melissa in her post Perspective, in which she writes about her discomfort when looking at art from artists who have been taught at art schools and how they think about art: “They have been taught that they must participate in the conversation where it was when they came on the scene. They must not paint, because painting is dead. Had they all been born a few decades sooner, they would have been able to join the conversation at an earlier point. Say, before painting had been declared dead. According to this line of thought, all painting that happens today is derivative.” Of course, at least to my understanding, art is not limited to the latest fashion or the latest anti-whatever-was-before.

On a more basic level, art deals with human experiences. It says something about what it is to be human, not scientifically and factually, but in a way that allows us to interpret the artistic expression. As the photographer and artist, Carlos Jurado, once expressed it: “Art allow us to expand the dimensions of our everyday life.”

Art enlighten us, again not through scientific or factual means, but by touching our emotions and make us reflect about who we are as human beings with all what that encompasses. “True art is an epiphany, an enlightening spark dancing in the perceived gap between ourselves and everything else.” That is what Duane Preble writes in a foreword to the book Tao of Photography.

In her post Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Challenger’s Choice (Architecture) Sally W. Donatello wrote that “art is meant to illicit doubt, dialogue, emotions, joy, thought and uncertainty; it is meant to provoke in calming and unsettling ways and everything in between those reactions. It is the artist’s responsibility to give us something to consider, to digest, to ponder, to query.” I wholeheartedly agree with her statement.

So what is really art, then? As I opened this post saying, it is a difficult question to answer. I know it when I see it, but defining it eludes me. I sometimes see glimpses of it in others’ work. Limiting myself to photography, I know that great art is about compassion when I see W. Eugene Smith’s photograph Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Minimata, 1972. I know great art is about reverence and humility in the presence of great things when I see Ansel Adams’ Clearing Winter Storm. I know great art is about optimism and endurance when I see Paul Strand’s work in the Hebrides—and I know it is about pessimism when I see Robert Capa’s photograph of the falling Spanish soldier. I know it is about the human search for spirituality when I look at the work of Linda Connor. I know it is about the loneliness of life when I look at the work of André Kertész. I know is it is about revelation when I look at the work of Josef Sudek and I know it is about the obscurity and the confusion of life when I look at the photographs of Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand.

In short, great art is never about the art work but seems to be about life, and possibly not, generally, the small things in life. The best artists appear to be engaged in the great dialog of life—the dialog that is usually the field-of-play for philosophers and theologians, for mystics or even political scientists. The great artists don’t seem to be asking questions about technique or the craftsmanship, but are asking the same kinds of questions that were asked by philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, or Freud—the same questions asked by the poets Aeschylus, Dante, Goethe, Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. What is man? Who am I? What is good? Why is there evil? How should we treat one another? Why don’t we? Why does suffering exist?

I have a Norwegian friend, Morten Løberg, who is a photographer also working with photo as art. On his web site, he has stated that during his 40 years as a photographer he has heard two good definitions of what art is. The first one stems from the then director Ole Henrik Moe at the museum of Høvikodden in Oslo, when he opened the Association of Fine Photographer’s anniversary exhibition in 1979: «A photograph is art when it shows a slice of reality seen through a personal temperament.» The other originates from the former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, Jan Brockmann: «Art brings the viewer to new insights and understanding, or to the brink of this.»

Those two points of view complement each other. And together they bring an understanding to the term art and what it stands for, that for me, is as close to a definition as it is possible to arrive at. So maybe I can extrapolate from those to quotes something like this: Art brings the viewer new insights seen through a personal temperament.

Have you any thoughts about what art is?

A Double Edged Sword

Selvportrett

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.

Energy, Enthusiasm and Emotion

En fisker med dagens fangst

Some years ago my blogger friend Robert K. Rehmann in a post on his eminent blog (the quiet photographer) quoted a famous photographer who had been a student of late Richard Avedon. This photographer had once said that Avedon used to tell his students that it was not possible to achieve good results in photography without the three E’s. Those three E’s were energy, enthusiasm and emotions. Ever since I read about them on Robert’s blog I have been pondering over these three E’s.

Needless to say Avedon himself was known for all three characteristics. He was supposed to have the energy, enthusiasm and relentless stride of a 30-year-old all up to his late years (he passed away at the age of 81). And throughout all of his work his emotional impact is very evident.

So what is it about these three E’s? In many ways they sum up everything that is needed for anyone pursuing photography as a way of expression—whether professionally or just for the fun of it. Everything in terms of personal qualities.

First of all, it takes a lot of hard work to become good as a photographer, in other words you need the energy to be able to develop yourself as a photographer. If you don’t put in the work, you will never reach your full potential as a photographer—no matter how talented you are. I have written about this before (Creativity is Work), and as I said back then; we all have creativity within us, but most of us need to dig it out. That’s also where enthusiasm comes in. Without enthusiasm you won’t find the energy to put in the work that is needed. At the same time enthusiasm is also about the necessity to let go, to lose control, take chances or just experiment in the creative process. Enthusiasm, as in passion, is what is driving us forward, that is where our wish to be spontaneous, to be free and joyful in our creative expression, comes from. This directly relates to the Greek understanding of Eros as the raw energy of our enthusiasm and passion. Energy and enthusiasm.

Finally; emotions. Without emotional engagement in our work, our photography will always become plain boring. In order to keep the attention of the viewers a photograph—as all artistic work—needs to have an emotional impact. It needs to speak to the viewer on some emotional level. And this emotional impact starts with our own emotional engagement. It starts with our own genuine interest in the subject in front of the camera—and then being able to convey that in the final photograph. Without it we have nothing to say, our photography becomes empty playing with forms and graphics.

Completion

Vårløsning i elven ned fra Tarlebø, innerst i Isdalen

Too often I don’t reach completion with my photo projects: That last step that makes photos shine. Why? Well, laziness maybe, it’s just so much easier not to make that final stage—and anyway, the photos look beautiful on my screen. I know most photographers are prone to the same shortcoming.

What am I talking about? Printing, of course—or at least showing your work to an audience. In the idea of a print lies the concept of the whole process from the very first moment of conceiving an idea of what will one day become a finalized artistic work or expression, to exactly that day, when the work is completed and ready to be displayed and shown to the audience. That is, a print, either hanging on a wall, printed in a magazine, smaller, glossy prints given to friends or relatives or even shared on social media and platforms. Or should I said ought to be. Because in reality with today’s digital world most photos never get out of the computer, we check them when we download them, and process some of them—if we even do that, I know for a fact that too many pictures are kept on the memory cards and never leave the camera—and then we mostly forget about them.

Our photos really deserve better. What is the use of all those images if nobody ever gets to see them? I am guilty of this myself too often, too, although since photography is my profession my work is often printed in magazine. And I think most of you are probably guilty too, even though, like me, you at least have an outlet through your blogs. But I think anyone creating or taking photographs should think more consciously of the completion of one’s work—as should any artist.

Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work. It’s a mental transition between old and new, which makes us ready to embark on new creative tasks. Photographer Minor White likened the process of the artistic production to the phases of the moon. In the waxing phase, we are building, creating, forming and shaping the world towards its completion. The full moon represents the completion phase. And the waning moon symbolizes a new phase of the cycle: The need for release, to cut the umbilical cord and give the work its own life. For some, until they send their offspring into the world, they are not ready for a new phase of work.

In order to reach this completion and mental readiness for a new cycle, we must pay attention to the finalizing stage of the creative process. For photographers it means we need to get our work printed and displayed. It doesn’t necessarily mean a hard print on the wall, just as duChemin notes in his book The Print and the Process: «I use the word “print” here in the broadest sense, in the sense that Adobe Lightroom, for example, allows us to print to JPG or PDF». As he points out, the important thing is to get our work out there, whether it’s presented on a wall or on our website. He continues: «Ansel Adams called the print the final symphony, though he was referring to actual prints. How we get that symphony is a process and we all have to have our own ways of getting there».

The completion is also strongly connected to detachment, which I have written about before (Engaged and Detached at the Same Time). With completion we are more easily able to detach from our work, and leave it to itself. Thus we should do the best work we can do in the creative phase up until completion, and then let the rest take care of itself. Or as David Ulrich says in The Widening Stream: «When your works, founded on inner necessity, are completed, release them. Take responsibility for their passage into the world. Put them out there in whatever manner is possible, reasonable and realistic. This stage is important to move on. We must prepare the ground for new actions and fresh insights».

Allow for Imperfections

If you were to choose between authenticity and perfect, what would it be? I bet for most of us, it would be the former. Who wants perfect when authentic feels real, inspiring and even more beautiful with its flaws, cracks and defects, than something that is perfect? Think about that for a moment. Relate the thought to your art, whether you photograph, paint, make music or whatever you do.

I know for myself I often seek to make the best I can do, I shoot around a subject to find the best angle, the best composition, the best light. I keep editing the images afterwards in Lightroom og Photoshop until I feel they are flawless. While instead I should allow for flaws and imperfections to bring out the authentic feeling from the outset. The Hollywood version of whatever we create is never going to be real, or even representative of what we stand for. As such, it won’t touch others as strongly as if we had allowed for flaws and imperfections in the creation.

Leonard Cohen once wrote, “Ring the bell that can still ring. There are cracks in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. Flaws are what makes us authentic and real, flaws are what make us shine, and authenticity trumps perfection every time. Those who ring cracked bells are the ones who make the biggest difference in our lives. They are the musicians who write the best songs, the artists who make the most meaningful art, the poets who write the strongest lines, and the people who make the best friends.

When all hell breaks lose, these people’s presence provides hope because they are real. Nobody wants to spend time with a perfect person when the world is falling apart. We want to be with people who understand. Rather than fix our brokenness, they reveal the light even in dark times. Not all cracks are bad; some are just wild edges where birds find refuge.

Think about again. When did you allow for flaws in your creative endeavours? Or at least accept them when they inevitably show up?

The American songwriter duo, Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, has allowed for imperfection to be part of their music. It came about when Linford’s father gave the couple some advice when they moved from the city to a farm: “Leave the edges wild”. It was a curious suggestion for someone who is new to rural life. Linford’s dad was a bird watcher, and he knew that if you make a farm too perfect, you won’t leave any space for the native birds. He said, “Leave the edges wild and let the birds have their hidden places for their untamed music.” Linford and Karin picked up that phrase and integrated the spirit of it into their work. The phrase became a metaphor for how they approached music and life. It wasn’t just about the birds, but about how to provide space for the cultivated and untamed aspects of life to thrive next to each other. If the neat rows of vegetables provided sustenance for the body, the wild edges would provide it for the souls.

Leaving the edges wild is a great mantra for any creative pursuit. Life can become so pasteurized and predictable that there isn’t any space left for mystery or surprise. Wild edges create a zone for the unfinished and untamed to thrive. Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” and it’s true. Think of your favourite song, book, movie, or romantic love—you can only explain it so far, and there is always an intangible and incomprehensible element that resonates within.

The most beautiful, most wonderful, and most magnificent push past the barriers of our limited minds. Where reason falls shorts, art steps in. Art is the mystery that awakens and stirs our soul and helps us stop being so caught up in the chaos of our small lives. To do so, though, it must be authentic. And authentic comes with flaws and imperfections.

Flaws can be beautiful if we can learn to embrace them for what they are. The creative process is not perfect, but is inherently flawed. And creativity flows the fastest when we strive to create great things but leave some openness for the fringe. Creativity grows best when it has plenty of space to breathe. So leave the edges wild and let your untamed and hidden spirit grow. Allow for flaws and imperfections.

Find Your Own Way

Do you confine yourself doing what you know your peers like or what is considered “good” photography? Do you show work to get positive feedback instead of giving the rest of the world your take on whatever it is you have photographed—or painted or written about or…? At least talking for myself, I know that is so easy to fall back on conformities and too easy to take the well-trodden path.

Some time ago, I came across a blog post by David duChemin, the Canadian photographer based out of Vancouver. He writes about a village in China called Dafen where thousands of painters make a living by making replicas of world famous paintings. They do this year in and year out, being very accomplished at it. If you can’t pay the millions it cost to get hold of a Picasso, you may get a copy by one of these very skilled painters in Dafen for a just a few dollars.

His point is that however good the paintings from Dafen may be, they are not art. They do not offer anything to the world except cheep copies of something that once did and still do create aw and admiration in the art world. The copies themselves do not. As skilful as these painters in Dafen are, nobody will ever become inspired by them, or boosted by them, or stimulated by them. Crafts in itself is not enough, an artists needs to put some of her or his soul into the creation to touch anyone else.

I know art is lofty and pretentious word, and if you are like me, you probably hesitate a little to call yourself an artists. But it still doesn’t change the point and it still doesn’t change fact that both you and I most likely are photographing—or painting, sculpturing, writing, making music or whatever you do—out of a desire to fulfil a creative desire.

In so doing we want to creating something that at best may touch others or at least be or some inspiration or maybe just result in a smile in another’s face. That is pretty close to art, in my opinion. However, according to duChemin, “if art is more than just technique and imitation, no matter how perfect that imitation, then it requires something more than years of practice. It requires us. It requires interpretation. It requires that we bring something of our own to the table, preferably something that means something to us, something that’s a part of us. It requires vulnerability and soul and thoughts of our own.”

We need to leave Dafen—figuratively speaking. We need to break out of conformity and what is considered the “right way”. Because there is no right way. There are no rules, and if you believe there are, then break those damn rules. Jump out of the stereotype and become yourself in the creative process. As duChemin says; you don’t want to spend your life imitating others, do you?

It takes one thing, though, and that is courage. It takes courage to be yourself. It takes courage to create on your own terms. In takes courage to stand out from the crowd and not be like everybody else. It takes courage to accept your own quirks and oddities. However, it’s from this place you will find your true, artistic expression. You art will grow deeper and become more authentic if you draw the artistic expression from your real self, the one that you sometimes, or most of the time, try to hide—as I wrote in my post Embrace Your Oddities some time ago.

As David duChemin writes in this post: “We’re all trying so damn hard to blend in that we have no chance at standing out. And that’s a shame, because if you just let your freak flag fly, you’d find it was that to which people were the most attracted. The real you. The messy you. The you who had the courage to leave Dafen and try it your way. Not to be different, but to be you. Imperfect, weird, intriguing, fantastically human you. That’s the kind of person who makes art, not copies: someone who is truly him or herself, not a copy of someone else.”

Skills and craft are good and necessary to be able to express ourselves, just like you need to learn your mother tongue to be able to express yourself with words. But take it to the next level. When talking about photographing, don’t just show us where you have been or what something looks like. Show me why it so important for you that you actually took a photo of it.

If you haven’t visited David dChemin’s blog, I strongly recommend to do so. He is full of inspiration, encouragement and a well of poignant thoughts about photography and art. Start here then: Leaving Dafen (From Craft to Art).

The Curse of Good

Technology has helped us improve our creative output dramatically. It’s probably more obvious in photography than in any other creative endeavour. As a result, there are a lot more good photographers in the world. Good isn’t the big deal. Simply point and click. Yet, a few of the good photographers become truly great. Why is that?

Good is easy, but greatness is always hard. When I started out as a photographer, I wasn’t even good. Of course, that’s always how it is in the beginning. Back then, with manual and analogue film cameras, it was even harder to get started than today. Nevertheless, it didn’t take very long to become a pretty decent photographer, at least technically speaking. Getting beyond that level, though, is a much tougher travel—and still is today. Even these days with cameras that do all the thinking.

We all know it. It’s not the camera and it’s not their built-in ability to handle all the technical challenges that makes great photography. It’s still the photographer and his or her willingness to go beyond the obvious. The pursuit for great photography is a quest for hidden things. That’s why the best photographers are such a quirky bunch—like oddly equipped treasure hunters who get out into the world look for the magnificent. Leaving no rock unturned, they search high and low for the perfect shot. The result may still look like an easy accomplishment, but the truth is that effortless and deep photographs take decades of commitment to the craft.

When I teach photography, I am often asked for tricks that can make a student’s photographs better. The truth is, there aren’t any easy tricks that will quickly result in great photography. The curse of today’s technology is that it is fairly quickly to get good at it. That is literally the problem. It’s like inheriting money before you have learned the value of hard work.

Too much good too fast can distract us from a higher goal. When life is good, we stop trying so hard. That’s why so many of the great artists often started out starving. They weren’t only hungry for survival, their hunger infected their art. And, yes, I know it’s a cliché, but not completely. The American author Jim Collins distilled the curse of good in this way: “Good is the enemy of great”. He explained; “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life”.

When we become good, we might not see it this way. We think to ourselves, how can this be a curse? Good feels nice. But good is not a stable spot. We might soon becoming dissatisfactory with the result, particularly when we see others climbing higher than us and thus demoting us. When good is good enough, it stops the creative flow. Not good enough is what drives growth. It’s when we feel that we can still become better that we pursue that next level. And then do it again. And again.

Creative Magic

You may have noticed that this blog of mine has been titled Creativity Is within Us All. It’s not only something I have put there (look to the right), I truly have faith in it. I do believe we are all creative beings—as long as we are willing to uncover our creative abilities, which lies within us. It takes courage. It takes faith. But it’s there. This is how I see it metaphorically: the universe hides gems deep within us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

Sometimes these gems reveal themselves without any effort from us. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to uncover one. When it happens, however it does, when a sudden idea out of the air appears for our inner eyes, it feels like magic.

Elizabeth Gilbert—the bestselling author of Eat Pray Live—does think it’s magic. Literally. In her book Big Magic about creative living, she writes: “I believe the creative process is both magical and magic.” She believes our planet is inhabited with ideas, as disembodied, energetic life form. These are ideas can only be made manifest through collaboration with a human partner.

“When an idea thinks it has found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re are consumed by your own drama, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. […] But sometimes—rarely, but magnificently—there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something.”

Personally, I don’t quite believe as literally in ideas as real life forms, but I think, as a metaphor, Gilbert’s description gives a way of understanding how creativity works. It’s the way it feels when we are struck by ideas. As something, that just comes out of nowhere to be grabbed.

It’s up to us what we want to do with ideas that come our way. We can ignore them, we can think it’s too hard to follow through or we can say yes to the idea and make something out of is, however hard it’s going to be. For Gilbert the point is really how you embrace the ideas. She suggests to cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with the inspiration. You may not achieve success or make a living in your creative pursuit, but if you welcome creativity into life as such, enjoying being creative for itself, you will thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting , passionate existence.

Another quote from Big Magic: “I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you—but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and search for a different human collaborator. This happens to a lot of people actually. This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open the newspaper and discover somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or […]”

Whether or not you believe in ideas literally as life form is not important. What is important is to act on inspiration when it arrives. Not wait until better times. Not postpone until the idea is fully developed. Not put off until a better idea comes around. Not delay because you don’t feel ready.

Are you ready to act on inspiration when it strikes?