If Photographers Want To Be An Artist... They Must Have A Point Of View!

I've been studying this for a long time and I've finally figured something out. The reason that so many photographers simply copy the style of the day (how many more wedding shots will I have to look at where the photographer is shooting into the sun so he can get the background to flare? How many?) is that being an artist is dangerous. Being an artist is hard. Being an artist is risky. Being an artist will open you up to merciless ridicule and online attacks.

Its a fact. This is the lay of the land. Being an artist requires you to do the one thing that today's culture seems to shun – have your own point of view.

I watch people lurk in online forums at cafes. Ive taken to interviewing them and asking them what they think about a certain photo or a certain blog post, etc. Almost every time what they tell me in person and what they write online is different. Upon drilling down into the WHY of that, I get the following (paraphrased) response. Well if I say what I really think Ill get flamed.
Paul Gauguin

For some reason, current society, especially the famously anonymous Internet society, is not keen on people daring to step out and share their hearts. If you don’t conform you get flamed. If you dare to have a unique approach or worse, you are willing to say what you really think, and you're willing to own that position, you are a bum.

But here's the thing - true artists ALWAYS have an original point of view. They have a connection in their soul that causes them to see what they see and make what they make. They come from a place deep inside themselves and they open that up for the world to see. Thats scary stuff for lots of people.

A true artist doesn’t wait for inspiration. They take a stab at their work regardless. True artists have a laser focus on what they want to do. They typically don’t have 37 portfolio types on their web page. They have a thing or two that really speaks to them and they do that. True artists have the faith and confidence in what they are doing to actually finish what they start. The next thing they do is boldly share their art with the world. Now here's the sticky part.

When you put yourself out there – when you say boldly: I believe THIS. Then you open yourself up to criticism in spades. Its MUCH easier to tear down a barn than to build one and much easier when youre doing it anonymously in your mom's basement. So when you create – they berate.

J.S. Bach

When you stand up and say This is my point of view! Others will challenge you just for sport.

Few people can stand up to that sort of negativity. But true artists can stand up to that no matter what. Unfortunately, having a point of view and being bold enough to share it may never pay off – in your lifetime. But you shouldn’t let that stop you. If you fail (at first) you will be in good company.

Vincent Van Gogh sold only two paintings in his lifetime. Today his paintings are worth tens of millions of dollars EACH. Johann Sebastian Bach was a fantastic composer, but in order to make a living, he had to build and test organs. Henry David Thoreau was unable to find a publisher for most of his works and ended up self-publishing. He published only two books in his lifetime and both books were panned by the critics. Today his work has served as the inspiration for countless thought leaders, writers, artists and academics. Paul Gauguin was (during his lifetime) by all accounts a failure. His work was openly ridiculed. Today some of his paintings rank amongst the most expensive in modern art. Edgar Allen Poe was plagued by the death of his wife, alcoholism, and financial troubles during his lifetime. He moved around often and suffered severe depression. Today's REDDIT crowd would have a field day with his misfortune. He only made a few dollars on his work while he was alive. Now he's considered the master of the macabre and is credited with helping to make short stories, detective and science fiction credible.

Vincent Van Gogh

I could go on but you get the point. All these artists were ridiculed in their day. But later, humanity widely recognized their contribution. Sometimes it’s a hard road but thankfully these people all took it. Just think how boring life would have been without them. While it sucks to be attacked – think about this. Here we are, mentioning and discussing these artists BY NAME hundreds of years after their deaths. Who AREN’T we talking about by name? The many people who trolled them at the time.

So yes – if you step out and say "This is my point of view!" you will possibly be attacked. You will possibly find some unkind (probably talentless/jealous) people who will ridicule you. But you may also find someone who is moved by what moves you. You may find that someone wants to pay for your point of view. You may find that you create something that lasts a lifetime.

Edgar Allen Poe

So my questions for photographers who want to become artists are these:

  • 1. Do you want to be an artist and if so, do you have your own point of view?
  • 2. Are you willing to share your point of view boldly?
  • 3. Are you willing to brave the slings and arrows of the critics and to stay the course no matter what?

If so – then you may be involved in one of the best lives that anyone can live. While it may stink now – or in the future – I say stay the course. The world will quickly devolve into mediocrity if those of you with a point of view are silenced. I hope that something Ive written here today will motivate you to go for it. Oh – and not that I can be much help, but I am rooting for you.


Photo Courtesy Levi Sim

Scott Bourne is a member of The Board Of Advisors at Macphun, an Olympus Visionary and a professional wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He was one of the founders of This Week In Photo, Founded Photofocus.com and is co-founder of the new Photo Podcast Network (photopodcasts.com.)

Scott is a regular contributor to several photography related blogs and podcasts and is the author of 11 photography books.

Scott is available to speak to your birding group, photography group and for both private and small group bird photography workshops. For more information on engaging Scott as a speaker or workshop leader, or for image licensing and print information, e-mail scott@scottbourne.com.


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