Reassessing Success Maintaining Creative Integrity

At the moment I'm reading Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life by Richard Meryman. It's a biography about the great painter and one of my long-time creative inspirations. His father N.C. Wyeth was also a successful artist most notably as an illustrator of classic books at the turn of the 20th century.

Despite the constant demand for his work, N.C. was not happy. "(He) continued to feel trapped in his success as an illustrator," the author writes. It got me thinking about my own artistic lot.

Ever since I was a teenager, I've had some kind of strong creative draw in my life. At first it was music, then it was oil painting followed by graphic design which led to video production and that finally landed me into my deepest passion: photography.

All of these endeavors have one thing in common: I wasn't successful at any of them. Part of me wanted that success, to have my efforts recognized and make a living to boot. It was a tug of war between my ego and my need to have my work legitimized by monetary reward.

The older and wiser I become, the less I care about such things. In fact, I think, in many ways, being successful would be a death knell for my purely creative output.

As it stands, I have the luxury of allowing my imagination to run wild. I get excited thinking about ideas for photographs. My main concentration is pinhole photography and the nature of this medium makes the resulting images unpredictable. I am almost always pleasantly surprised by the outcome. It's thrilling to me because I feel like I'm making something out of nothing. I'm not merely capturing a scene in front of me, I'm creating something entirely new.

When I'm out shooting I have no preconceived notions of what I'm doing, I don't have an audience to consider and I'm certainly not beholden to an agent. It's a complete creative free-flow. If any of those external factors were at play, I would approach my picture-taking in an entirely different manner. I would perhaps be influenced by what has been successful in the past and try to emulate it. I might see something interesting but decide not to pursue it because my audience might not like it or my agent is now looking for this or that kind of photograph. I would second guess everything I was doing and eventually my logical thought process would smother my creative mind. Sounds catastrophic but I know myself better than anyone.

I read an interview with a favorite singer many years ago and she said something like if you're successful, you have a lifetime to write your first album and, from then on, it's all about pressure and reevaluating your work as a commodity. It's not that your artistic self evaporates. it's just that it becomes an uphill battle to keep it intact.

I should also say that I'm not averse to a little success. I have a print that's selling in IKEA worldwide right now and it's paying a few of my bills. It's great for bragging rights and boosts my ego to know my work is recognized as being legitimate. I live on the road at the moment but when I finally settle down somewhere, I would like to exhibit some of my photographs. At the very least, I want my work to be seen on a wall where there is no next or back button.

So really what I'm saying is that I've crossed a divide where I'm okay with continuing to produce work without needing recognition. Creative photography is a selfish endeavor and, as long as it gives me purpose and I have complete freedom to express myself, I have my own kind of success.

If you would like to keep up with my meanderings, click here to subscribe to my blog. Peace.

Created By
Steven Dempsey

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