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.
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…”
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.
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.
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."