This is a guest post by commercial photographer Alan Matthews. Although he is speaking as a photographer, replace photography with “video,” or [insert your art piece of choice]. It’s a great insight into the mind of us crazy creatives.
Recently, a Facebook-friend offered me some advice. Out of the blue. No warning. The first bit of his communication was positive saying that my latest photoshoot, which I posted on Facebook, had been my best work ever. Soon after the kudos came the advice. Unsolicited.
Being an “approval junkie” I could have easily been put off-balance in my spirit but for some reason I was able to view his “advice” in a new way. Approval junkie is such a perfect term to describe how we all seek approval from our family, friends – the world. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other social media outlets have only served to enable the dependency of our insatiable desire for approval. Yes, I admit it. I am an approval junkie. I’m so addicted to shooting not only the next image but addicted to pushing the envelope of my own creativity. But that’s not all.
Isn’t everyone just like me? At least every photographer? It doesn’t stop with the creating of a beautiful image we admire, does it? We want approval from others so we show our photos off on Flickr or Facebook and wait for the kudos from our “friends.” We need our fix. How do we feel if we post a photo that WE love and admire, especially knowing just how much work went into it…then we get – nothing? We check and re-check for comments. Refresh the page. Nothing.
If we are shooting professionally then we have a website of our best work that represents who we are as creatives. But, a website with no audience is like the tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears. How do we make sure people see and approve? We promote ourselves to Art Directors and Creative Directors by sending emails or promotions – kind of an advanced, highly refined and well thought-out targeted version of posting on Flickr and Facebook. Why do we do that? To get hired and paid of course which is the ultimate reward.
Back to my friend’s advice. He told me that I should not post every single image from my photoshoots to Facebook because it “waters down” the stronger images. I don’t add commercial clients or even potential commercial clients on Facebook anyway. I agreed with his assessment and told him how I didn’t post the tightest edit of my photoshoots on Facebook because I’m not trying to impress commercial clients. On my website I do a tighter edit where I do want to impress potential clients. He continued by saying, “yeah – do it there, too” – meaning on my commercial website I need to do a tighter edit of the images I post there. He proceeded to click on each website section and with near rapid fire succession tell me which image number should be removed or that this one might be a bad crop – all unsolicited advice. “Where would this stop?” I wondered.
Without going into the details of the rest of the email conversation, suffice to say it felt like an attempt to shake my confidence masked with a friendly outreach. I don’t think even he knew his motivation. I made sure to end it on a friendly upbeat note. I couldn’t imagine what motivation there could be for his “reaching out” to me other than intimidation because I don’t consider him a mentor. As I thought over what happened I could only wonder if he was also an “approval junkie” – like me.
Devoted husband and father. Coffee-addicted, Canon-loving incessant creator of photographic art. You can see more of Alan’s work at his website (but whatever you do, don’t send him advice. 😉 ).
Is it just that we like hearing encouraging thoughts about our work? I think art is so subjective that we seek more than a facebook pat on the back, it validates our work and style as an artist when others agree or appreciate what we post. On the flip side… art is subjective, and so we are also opening ourselves up to critiques that may be unwanted or whose purpose it’s tough to pin down. If you get a chance to watch Tamara Lackey’s creative live workshop from last month, it’s got some great pointers, but what I took away from it is her “it’s not my business”, which I took to mean that when someone gives you unsolicited advice, or a critique on your work, they have every right to feel that way, but there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s their business. But at the same time, you have to feel that way about positive feedback as well. If you let your vision for your business be influenced one way or the other, either end of the spectrum, it’s no longer YOUR vision. 🙂