Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph Blog Some Thoughts about the Artistic Experience – Dr. Ellen's Blog

Some Thoughts about the Artistic Experience

Posted on February 6, 2012 By

How photographers experience and emotionally interact with the world says a lot about them, not only as an artist but as a person.

Some are bold and brave
We’ll call these Group I

Folks in this group stand tall and make their mark. They consider themselves leaders, not followers. They feel and exude confidence in themselves. And in the process they talk to others, they ask questions of others, they explore creative ideas with others; and they offer feedback as a way for others to understand better where they are coming from. They seek out others and reach out to them in warm, friendly, supportive and involved ways.

Theirs, consequently, is a highly interactive world. These kinds of folks feel a responsibility to do their best, but in the same breath they can also be counted on to cheer others on around them. They help make the world a better place to live emotionally, physically and intellectually. Their are remembered for their artistic pursuits because theirs are self-expressive and self-revealing projects. They dig deep down inside themselves to find their true self which they then boldly show to the world, not as perfection necessarily, but as a self in the process of evolving.


Where Winning is the Goal
We’ll call these Group II

At the other end of the continuum are folks who concern themselves mostly with how they look and how they are perceived by others, and how they measure up to others.

They worry more about ‘winning’ than on achieving their personal best at things they do in life, especially if they make some mistakes along the way.

Mistakes to these folks are cruel twists of fate that are embarrassing and disgusting. They slink away and hide in the shadow of a mistake so as to (hopefully) not be noticed by others. Consequently, they carefully observe others and they readily take from others, but they rarely give back to those around them, and never spontaneously. They are defined by a fairly high level of basic life anxiety because they reside in an emotional space that separates themselves from others. This space of theirs is exclusionary, and by default it prevents real communication with others.

It also kills the creative spirit which is inherently an interactive one, not a competitive one. Creativity flows from inspiration, and inspiration flows from others.

Competition is fine, even essential, to some degree but imagine how much nicer a world it would be if we were all more competitive with SELF?


The Rest of Humanity Falls Somewhere In-between
The question is, where? And why?

Take the field of digital photography, the boundaries of which are clearly driven by hardware and software makers.

The industry claims it is responding to consumer needs but I don’t see much evidence for that. What I see is an industry making photography news happen. They are in the business of telling us what we need in trade magazines that contain twice (three times?) as many pages of advertising as substance.

It is an industry that seems to think we consumers are hungry for ever more pink Colorado sunsets on magazine covers, even though they look perfectly contrived and, in some cases, downright awful (in my opinion). As I see it, the industry is being led by folks in Group II, not by those with high levels of self-actualization.

Were there a huge cadre of self-actualized individuals at the helm of the photography industry we would see much more focus on artistic networks for inspiration and self-growth. Today’s networks are expensive collectives poised against the competition in increasingly aggressive ways while offering up more legal advice than emotional and creative support. They definitely aren’t very inspiring. Yes, they are sharing their Photoshop expertise with us, but why? To make a name for themselves, mainly. And, of course, it is good press for Adobe, too.

But do we really need one more book about color management? Or image sharpening? There are already dozens of them out there, and new ones are published every year.

Even most of the photo trips available today are driven more by economic than artistic forces.

Yes, photo workshops in the field teach participants how to take perfectly executed pictures which is good, assuming that is your primary goal when you are out in nature. And they can help you manage your equipment and workflow in more efficient ways. I admit, they also offer opportunities to interact with other photographers – but then – do you really want to spend upwards of $7,000 for a week of poorly dispensed group TLC?

I also can’t think of anything worse then spending that kind of money and my precious time with an arrogant, belly-aching, highly egotistical jerk who thinks he is God’s gift, even if he takes great shots. You know what I mean? And [he or she] might not even be the leader of the group!

You’d probably be better off joining forces with a cadre of like-minded friends and designing tours of your own, tailor-made to your group’s unique needs.


Back to the Drawing Board

It is never easy, but the more self-differentiated among us have to stand up and be counted.

We need to say NO! to industry trends that place equipment and stock sales above all else. We should instead be educating each other about the need for more artistic space; for the establishment of more creatively oriented collectives; for more dialogue with fellow artists through written and video media; for more tolerance to see things differently; and for more collective soul-searching about why we photographers do what we do in the first place.

Photography, in other words, is not just about getting work accepted by Corbis. The art of photography requires a great deal more from us in the form of personal investment.

If we can just get everyone talking together, that would be a start. Right now a few vocal ones from Group II are shouting ME, ME, ME at the top of their lungs while the rest of us are sitting mute in our little gear-driven, name-branded cocoons, reticent to speak up.

Or are we?


The Moral to the Story

Years ago I moderated AOL’s popular Nature Photography Forum that served as a kind of virtual club for many of us. It was a fantastic collective of folks from around the world who enjoyed getting to know one another. On an almost daily basis we talked photography, we compared equipment, we researched industry news and issues; but over time we also engaged in substantial dialogue about the world and about ourselves as we became better acquainted.

Solid friendships were formed there.

Eventually, however, the ambience of this collective was shattered by wannabees who brought their Group II attitudes and competitiveness with them into the forums. They poked and prodded, they argued, they shouted obscenities at times, they intruded on the dialogue process and, in general, they behaved like immature fifteen year-olds who were clueless about the importance of personal relationships.

The more mature ones of us eventually left the online forum, but we remain in close contact to this day and we treasure our friendships despite the distances that separate us.

And here is the best part: we are still learning from each other after several decades of interaction.

So get off your duff and go find some like-minded folks, like a non-competitive camera club, for instance. Compare notes with them. Laugh together. Try out each other’s perspectives. Help each other stretch and reach for the stars. Walk in each other’s shoes for awhile. Dare each other to march to a different drummer.

Show the world what makes you tick, not as a Nikon or Canon shooter, but as a person who is interesting and enjoyable to be around who also happens to love to take pictures.

This is the kind of process that helps turn a shutterbug into an artisan over time because it peels away defenses that are replaced by inspiration.