Casting Negativity Aside And Growing As An Artist

Casting Negativity Aside And Growing As An Artist

"Oh, so you're a photographer now...?"

It's a question I'm sure each of us has heard. Coming to us from a friend and/or family member that we haven't seen in a while, maybe those who we're remotely connected to on any one of the social media platforms where we post our work. It rings of sarcasm, and while I don't believe it's meant to hurt us, truthfully, it kind of does. To be honest, regardless of if you pick up a camera, a guitar, a piano, a paintbrush, a microphone, or a chisel, if you decide to follow a creative path, you’d better get used to hearing it a lot. Like, a lot.

Why?

The answer is simple, really; people like things just as they are. They take comfort in knowing what to expect from the world, what they're going to get from everyone, and they really don't want you - or anything else - to change. And they especially like us in the little box we've always been in. By growing, changing, and developing, we're changing the status quo, stirring the pot, we're rocking their comfortable little world. And people really hate that shit. Of course not everyone we meet is going to be unsupportive. As we begin to stretch our artistic muscles, we're going to find ourselves in groups and communities of fellow artists all of whom will challenge and push us and our creativity to new and dizzying heights. Truth is, in my own personal journey, there have been more supportive people than I'd ever expected. And while I am grateful for and try to consciously remember every single word of encouragement, it is always the non-supportive words which tend to stand out out the most, especially during those times when clouded with doubt and questioning whether this path is the right one.

Such is the the nature of the insecure artist.

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But let's take a moment to consider the source of this negativity. Those friends or family members who, with a few simple words, can make us question our entire creative journey and make us think that perhaps a dead end job in an office with a window overlooking a parking lot isn't the worst thing in the world (my apologies to office workers everywhere). I mean, who doesn't love a steady paycheck and the comfort of knowing that the next thirty to forty years of your life are already planned out. All you have to do is show up, shuffle some paper a bit, retire, and then do whatever comes after retirement (we all know what comes after retirement)... So, why so negative toward you?

Well. It's really not about you.

Try this experiment: Take a good look at what they're doing with their lives. What changes have they made? Are they moving forward or are they stuck in neutral and/or spinning their wheels? I'm not saying they *should* be doing anything with their lives, I'm sure they have a few interesting things going on (perhaps their favorite sports team is playing this weekend), but we do  - we're on your way to doing something most people only dream of - we’re following our passion. And they most likely resent us for it because perhaps it's been a dream of theirs that someone in their past made them feel stupid for having and which they ultimately gave up on.

Projection.

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Make no mistake; as nice as they seem, as normal and as well-adjusted as they may be in every other aspect of their lives, they will take every opportunity to push us back into that little box because the only thing important to them isn't us and/or our life as an artist, it's their comfort and maintaining their status quo. The best thing we can do isn't just to grin and bear it and leave them and their passive aggressive negativity in our past, instead, perhaps the best thing we can do is to ask them what their passion is/was and perhaps spark a rediscovery of their own creative journey. If not, perhaps a good cleaning out of the people you surround yourself with might be in order. It’s the old adage that no matter how many people are cheering us on, it’s the one judgmental, non-supportive voice that we seem to hear the loudest, reaches us the clearest, and affects us the most directly.  People love to create and if you allow someone the time and the opportunity, there is a good chance they’re going to jump on it - despite what they may have said a few moments prior.

Since I've been writing for Fstoppers, I've been lucky enough to have both my name and my work sent out to a much larger audience than I ever could have imagined. It’s an intimidating feeling to know that my voice will be heard by those outside my immediate circle, but one that I am so incredibly grateful for. Since I began here, I've been able to connect with people who are much like myself in that we share a love of what we do. And as someone who is rather late to the game, I’m glad to see that there are artists out there who despite the number of detractors, continue to put their work out there and in doing so, continually provide inspiration to those of us who at first may be hesitant to share. Not to overstate, it, but almost every bit of inspiration in my life has come from people who were brave enough to go out on their own, risking who and what they were and what they had. Doing this in a public forum,  allowed me to see both their successes and their failures and provided ample motivation for striking out on my own and moving forward whether or not the time "feels" right.

Going forward, it’s not a matter of when we’re going to hear the question “Oh so, you’re an artist now?” it’s a matter of how many times we’re going to hear it before we see it for what it is, turn it around, and allow it to provide inspiration. In addition this could be a great way to open a door to a conversation the friend or family member has been waiting to have with someone for years. Our positive reaction to their question, despite the overall passive aggressive and somewhat negative nature of what they’re asking, could spark something in them which allows them to brush off whoever and whatever is keeping them from their own artistic expression. Who knows what could happen if we turn their negative into everyone’s positive. Imagine what great things we all could do together.

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22 Comments

Zach Sutton's picture

If you're picking up a piano you'll probably hear "Holy shit, you're strong" more than anything else

John Schell's picture

*do not attempt to pick up a piano...Zach. -_-

Zach Sutton's picture

Hold my beer. I got this...

Hold me, my beer got this....

hahahaha

Hold me, my beer just fell..

Really great article John! Excited to share this article with a few of my viewers.

Joe
Joestpierrephoto.com

Thank you for your article. Much needed. And I must say, the second image from the top is beautiful. I love the subtlety of the light and the framing of the bars around the model.

I think that photo is a really great example of "simulating" sharpness definatly want to try it

Carlos Humberto Stein's picture

That's why im a big fan of fstoppers, you guys give me strength to keep going, i just changed profession and I'm 28 now and I keep hearing this over and over...
Hope to meet you guys some day, I'm from Brazil and I read all posts from fstoppers.
Thanks another great article!

Richard B Flores's picture

Great article John!!
I've been in that situation multiple times with the people whom I thought would be the biggest support. But I feel that using that negative energy and those remarks as a way to work harder have helped me get where I am and look forward to where we want to be.

Awesome photos also!

David Moore's picture

I read about people having detractors, but I have this weird group of friends and family, and I have none. Luckily, my inner voice definitely makes up for it. No external force could ever discourage me like my inner voice, haha.

Wow really? I think my family and friends would be nothing but supportive.
Mind you - a lot of them refer to me being a photographer anyway (I'm not a pro)

David Vaughn's picture

There are few things more disparaging than hearing your mother tell people, while you're RIGHT next to her, that you're still just not sure what you want to but you'll probably go into law eventually. And even when she does admit that I'm a photographer the other person's response often has a subtext of "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that."

And people wonder why I'm cynical. lol

I'm a "traditional", a fabric artist, a writer and a photographer. I've done photography for over twenty years, the "traditional" art and fabric for the same amount of time, and the writing for around 10. I grew up in a family were working is manual labor, blue collar or white collar office. Working for yourself, and not doing one of those, was seen as a waste of time.
I still bet asked from my blood relatives, "So, you still doing that photography thing?"
Yep, it can make you feel like you arent on the right track, but you just gotta fight through that and stay on target.
Thanks for another great article.

John, loved the article but I think the last bit stood out to me the most, "Our positive reaction to their question, despite the overall passive
aggressive and somewhat negative nature of what they’re asking, could
spark something in them.."

As someone whose been hearing those questions for quite a few years, I definitely honed in on the passive-aggressive nature of the actual question asking, but quickly realized like anything else it comes down to confidence. Once I had the confidence to state proudly, "Yes, I am - do you shoot as well?" starting an avenue of communication and showing how my 'art' had a direct correlation to most any average 9-5 job people were able to see my work and more importantly me in a whole new light. Most people want to put us into neat little 'roles' as artists (bohemian, hippie, etc) which we do to most others who are 'different', but it's important to remember no one really fits any one mold we assign to them. Everyone's a multifaceted, complex person whom you never know how much you have in common with them unless you START the conversation and push it beyond Christmas party small talk.

One way to deal with it is to stop telling people that you're a photographer.

Keep your mouth quiet and let your work do the speaking.

In my experience, the main reason that most people will sneer at folks who talk about being a photographer is not because of any kind of personal Freudian issues on their part. It's usually because they know that people that do a lot of personal advertising are usually hucksters trying to act a role.

What I want to know more is... who's the model? She looks lovely!

olivier borgognon's picture

Thanks John for such a great article, very inspiring.

Being part of those who have been negatively affected by close relatives, it is still ongoing and is impressive how it can hurt.

at age 15 i wanted to become a photographer, but didn't pursue as i could not make the right connections for myself which was looking back a great thing. I then followed commercial school and an IT school to become software developer, obviously this looks good in society, and people like "consultants" and IT people, in their view it's good money, it's a good job (office, box, work hard, safe etc.). slowly drifting back into web design and keeping up my photography, i was enjoying it for my personal pleasure, and that didn't impact anything.

Then came the fed up time, change of life, was also a scuba diver and decided to run my own business, a dive base in spain, meaning change country, learn a new language, total unknown. First resistance from family members and friends... all thinking how they would love to do it, but didn't do it, and how long am i going to do that before a real job came along after.

5 years down the road, back to Switzerland, personal changes forcing to return here and stop my business activity in Spain, what do we do... revert to an office job to pay the bills, which turned out to be including more and more photography, which lead me out of the job as it wasn't the category they wanted even though they positioned me in the job. All that time i was still shooting, learning, discovering, and then came the time to say stop... go into photography, full time.

Now here goes the trick, parents telling me... you've failed at everything you have done so far (look at your dive base, look at your IT job, your photography is not going to pay the rent) so what are you going to do for a living ? when are you going to get a real job and have some success ?

My answer was clear... I have discovered twice what it takes to be a business owner, learnt spanish, met incredible people, taught over 600 people how to go underwater and achieve their inner peace by overcoming their fears, followed my IT cursus, pursued photoshop and other software skills, improved my photography, taken part in ceremonies and events which i would have never imagined possible, met high level representatives some would crave to meet, so definitely... there is no failure, but only small successes all the way with some major learning curves which some call failures.

So this story really hits the spot, and thank you for sharing it, clearing out the negative people is certainly something important, and growing without too much focus on what others think. Learning to be humble when someone criticises our work is also important, what if they were right , when it comes from peers and people who know what they are talking about Others have subjective views,and that's ok as art is subjective, we can take it or leave it.

Sorry for a long post, but felt like sharing as this really sank into me :)

John Schell's picture

Thank you for sharing that. It's helpful to know that there are other out there affected by such negativity. Keep up the great work, Olivier

Great article, I have heard this many times as I'm sure many of us and is always good to have somebody to remind us not to give up so easy, although I have to say that even me I would advice somebody who is just starting as a photographer to think twice before they take this path, as for sure is not an easy one.

Thanks so much for this article John. It's inspiring and really helps me to move forward into I want to accomplish. It's incredible how the people you thought were going to support everything you do no matter what it is are the people who gives you the most negative reaction (your family). The first time I told my mom that I was going to change my major from Physical Therapy to pursue a more artistic path this being photography. She freaked out the first thing she told me was "oh you are gonna starve" I asked her then what is the problem of pursuing something I'm passionate about. She then told me that photography wasn't a really job. I mean what is the definition of a real job anyways?
Three years later and my mom still doesn't think I can make a living out of my art, she is a little bit more supportive than before but not as fully as I would love her to be. But hey this is the path I have chosen and no body is going to change that. At times I do get that doubt in my mind saying "was changing careers a good idea" or "is this really what I'm supposed to be doing am I that passionate for this"? stupid thoughts like that, then I think of all the things I have accomplished that made me happy and I go back to my more confident thinking, knowing that I can really do this and move forward with this.
Once again thanks for the article. The photographs are beautiful. Amazing work =)