Turning Around That Creative Jealousy

Turning Around That Creative Jealousy

Yay! You're doing something creative.

We can all probably remember the moment when we first realized that we could create cool stuff. That moment when we looked at something we'd made from scratch and not only were we not disappointed by what we created, not only were other people impressed by what we created, but we actually liked what we'd done. And, perhaps most importantly, we wanted to do it again. Regardless of the medium, creating something from nothing, whether by yourself or as part of a team, something that may not exist if we ourselves hadn't created it, something that other people respond to, is let’s face it, a really, really cool thing.

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Growing Success!

As we begin our creative journey, we may notice that the more time and effort we put in, the better we're able to bring our vision to reality. And as a matter of course, we may begin to share our work with more and more people by putting it up Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, etc. If the response is welcoming, it can be a motivator and push us to continue to create. While the idea of sharing our work for the sake of ‘Likes’ is something almost nobody will admit to doing, the idea that other people, sometimes perfect strangers, are liking and accepting of something we created can be both humbling as well as inspiring.

So we continue to create, and suddenly our work becomes more than something we’re casually attempting, more than something that we’re doing in our spare time, and we can finally say with a small but growing amount of confidence, “Yes, I am an artist…”

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Wait a second! People are doing things and doing them better than me!?

I remember the moment it happened - I had been posting some of my photography online for about a year or so and I was feeling pretty good about myself and my work. Within my relatively small market, I was quite happy with what I’d been doing and, more surprising (at least to me) was that my work was being compared to that of some of the local photographers that I'd looked up to when I first began. It was, to be honest, a pretty satisfying feeling, and admittedly, I reveled in it.

So with my building confidence, I continued onward; shooting as much as I could possibly shoot and pushing out as much work as I possibly could push out. It was, without question, the very definition of tunnel vision. It was exhausting. Sometime later that year, feeling somewhat creatively blocked, I began researching artists outside of my market. Sure, I'd briefly heard the names before, and of course I'd seen their work once or twice, but I never really put too much thought or time into it. People were doing great things outside of my area, of course they were. But it wasn't until I looked - really looked - at what was going on outside of my market did the full effect hit me. And the impact was immediate. Within seconds of browsing, I blow away, humbled, and quite a bit embarrassed by what I found. The work, their work, everyone's work, was incredible. It wasn't what I thought I'd like to be shooting, it was exactly what I wanted to be shooting. And I will admit, I wasn't inspired, I wasn't motivated, I didn't go and woodshed some new techniques. Instead, I shut down the computer, gave my camera a look of disgust, and locked up every last one of my Facebook albums. Creative jealousy had taken a firm grip.

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Quick! What makes you unique? 

The next year or so was a blur. Whether it was a conscious decision or not I can't say, but I went through a period of time where I attempted to copy every style that I came across, every style that I thought would move me closer the where I wanted to be. Sure, in the process, I developed what was considered my own style, for sure got some good photos, I met some amazing people, and I traveled around a bit. But looking back at the work I produced, it's easy to see that although it was technically my work, I was essentially shooting my interpretation of someone else's vision. The good feeling I had about my work when I first began was replaced by a shallow, empty feeling, as though I'd taken a birthday present someone had given me and sold it. I had put my own creativity on hold and was essentially trying to tap into someone else’s. Coming upon this realization, I knew it was time for a change.

With a more critical eye, and the help of some brutally honest friends, I decided that it was time to shed the creative jealousy, take a step back, and think about what makes me unique. Since I wasn't shooting from a place of my own, I forced myself to consider the following: As an artist, what do I bring to the table? What aspects of my life and my personality do I want to show up in my work? What are my influences? What did I want to do? What did I want to be? At first, I didn't really have answers to these questions, but starting out the one thing I knew was that I wanted to be happy with my creative output.

And I wasn't - and that upset me.

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No really, what makes you unique?

I'm not suggesting that my experience should be used as a lesson for anyone, or that you should or shouldn't be happy with your own creative output regardless of where it comes from or where it's based. Some people find themselves very happy and/or in very lucrative careers copying the work of others - and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. But for me, holding myself to the standard of others and constantly comparing myself to them was, as it turned out, detrimental to not only my creative well-being, but to my health as well. In shedding my creative jealousy and focusing on my own influences and my own artistry, I found that I was able to work with a much clearer head knowing that what I was creating was mine and allowing that what they were creating was theirs. That concept alone was huge. Are there some aspects of my work that are influenced by others? Absolutely. Will it show in my work? Of course. Art, regardless of the medium, does not exist in a vacuum.

For me, personally, once I recognized and acknowledged my own creative jealously, it was somewhat easier to let it go and to attempt to allow my true influences to shine through. Your mileage may vary, of course, but that’s the beauty of being creative - each journey is an individual one (no two snowflakes, etc).

The creative journey is truly an amazing thing.  Regardless of who we are, the world around us will somehow seep into our subconscious, influence us, and shape who we are. As creatives, we take that influence, allow it to spark something and, if we're lucky (and after a ton of hard work) we get to see that vision through to it's physical realization. It is truly wondrous. I'm not really one for hyperbole, but would it be too much to suggest that in this sea of over seven billion people, one filled with follows, likes, tweets and retweets, that perhaps the last stronghold of our individuality is to look upon something we've done and with a mix of childish wonder and pride say, "I made this."

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John Schell | Instagram

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18 Comments

I know no artist who does not struggle with this day to day

Andy McRory's picture

The essence of art (not a competition) makes this even harder. While I'm busy being jealous of the creativity of people who shoot what I love, I'm also comparing technique, equipment, experience, opportunity, exposure, education, and a bunch of other things — and then rationalizing that I'll never have all those things here and now, so i can't possibly achieve that level of creativity.

This is exactly how I felt for the longest time. I didn't even want to put a site online until recently. With the encouragement of friends, fellow photogs, and my wife I finally put one online. Now I'm trying hard to ignore that jealousy and just shoot what I want to shoot :) Nice post!

Yvel Clovis's picture

You've got some really beautiful photos with a consistent style. Bravo!

Thanks man! Means a lot!

talk about creative jealousy! i was going to put my website up on my profile but after looking at yours i don't know if i should bother!! seriously! :) awesome photos

Great article! I agree, it can be a difficult struggle to separate your art from others. I definitely wouldn't ever stop looking at other people's work, because it is so inspiring and it does push me to get better. But there is a point when you have to realize that your work will never look exactly like somebody else's, and there is always going to be that person out there that is better than you at what you do. And of course, there's constant gear comparison that makes you think that if you had $10,000 for equipment, you too could create the masterpiece that you're striving for. A lot of artists stop at this point and decide that they do not want to make art anymore because the constant comparison is so hard, but I'd like to think that the ones that continue are the real artists that are creating for the sake of creating. :) Thank you for a great article, it's always nice to hear that the really awesome artists struggle with this as well!

Brian Anderson's picture

I take the approach of Socrates - "I only know that I don't know." Armed with that I can accept that maybe everyone is more talented than I am at photography and with that attitude I am always a student and I'm not worried about the competition. There's no reason to be jealous because I place everyone's art above my own. I have had what looks like moments of success here and there and I just keep on moving along and remaining a student to the art. I'll chase 60 or 70 unsolicited votes a picture on 500px and I'll put stuff up on my Facebook page. I've even gotten paid for my work and I never thought that would happen! Whatever happens that is widely considered good or even great from my camera is my gift of light. My brief moments of progeny where everything went right and I produced a pleasing photograph :) In the end I really love photography, and everything about. It didn't even happen to be something I use to do just over three years ago but when I discovered it my world changed.

Creative Jealousy... recognising it is, indeed, liberating. If you don't feel it at all, you are probably wrongly convinced that what you do is great and you face the risk you being ridiculous. Just go through all the profiles on Flickr and such looking for meaningless compliments and you will see a lot of that. However, just feeling that Jealousy but failing to recognise it may lead you to hide what you do, not daring to expose yourself to honest criticism. Once you acknowledge the true (small) size of your work, you accept what you are and become much more open to get slammed in the face with criticism. Of course that much can be justified with differences in gear and in subjects, places, opportunities, time available, etc., but when deep down you accept that what you do is so-so at the most, you are truly ready to start learning. It's curious that I was think about that not too long ago on a post and from then on I have been noticing that much of what I do that fails to reach the result I expected is basically my fault, either because I rushed myself, or because I made a wrong settings option, or just out of lack of skills. What do I do then? I go back to the same place, when possible of course, and start all over again. The work of others is more and more cause for admiration rather than true jealousy: the more I struggle to get results that I can be happy with, the more I admire the work of others. In the end, what really matters is how I feel about my shots, more than what others do, as long as I keep my feet on the ground... http://mpimpao.com/windows_FOR_the_soul_blog_files/photographer_dull_lif...

Thanks for this article. This is, nearly verbatim, my experience with photogrpahy in 2013. 2014 is the year that I face and conquer creative jealousy, find my vioce, and do what I love because I love it. I have stopped selling my photos. Period. If someone sees a photo of mine and asks for it, I send them a print in a modest frame for free. I figure, if I'm not going broke giving away photos then I wouldn't be making much of a living selling them anyway. In the meantime, taking money out of the equation has helped me focus on the good feeling of making and sharing.

Yvel Clovis's picture

Wow! Thank you for this. It's as if you wrote a section of my life in explicit detail because I still struggle with the creative jealousy from time to time. But you hit it right on the nose about those proud moments where the work was created, not imitated, There is no greater feeling.

John Schell's picture

My pleasure, Yvel. Glad it resonated with you. I think it's something we all go through from time to time.

Wow! I never feel compelled to comment but this article sums up how I have been feeling lately. It is helpful to know there are others who have these same feelings and I'm not a jerk for it. Thank you for this and for helping me to clarify that I need to dial it back so that my work goes back to art & I can enjoy what I do again.

John Schell's picture

My pleasure. Really glad you enjoyed it, Brittany.

love the humility and honesty in this article John. I can definitely relate to so much so said here :) Love the work and the article buddy..Cheers

thank you for this article. I have recently ventured through that rough journey of creative jealousy. It can be very discouraging but it's so great when you're able to let that go and be happy with what you put out. Giving yourself room to improve on your own terms. I have recently begun producing my best work because I stopped comparing myself to other photographers.

THIS. this is exactly what i have been going through for the past few years, i am a photographer and a layout artist. At first, I was creating something that made me happy, then after seeing other peoples works, it hit me. The world of art is vast and infinite, questions began popping in my head, like what i should do to improve or at least get to a level where i can say that my works can be compared to what i am seeing. But reading this i realize that comparing your works with others is not how it should be and there will never be a point where you can say that you have accomplished everything and created something that no one will ever surpass. Thanks to this very great article.

There are too many of us who are stuck in a creative rut, confused whether we've hit a dry spell or maybe had fallen into creative jealousy or paralyzing awe. I'm glad you made this article for those of us in that situation.