I believe artists are passionate people. We do our best work when we are excited about it. Have you considered what excites you? Do you seek the excitement?
Do you get excited when you are shooting?
I try to have that level of excitement. Of course, we are just human and it will not be there in full strength all the time. Like everything in life it ebbs and flows with our mood or circumstances.
I find that I have different grades of excitement about the things I shoot. It can range from “I really should shoot this; it is kind of interesting; I might can make a decent image out of it” to “Wow! I’m so excited right now I can hardly be still enough to expose a frame properly”.
I don’t consider anywhere along that continuum to be “wrong”. But the high excitement side is definitely more fun and easier to get, well, excited about.
Not all scenes are great
What makes the difference in the excitement level? One is probably the inherent quality of the scene or subject. When I say inherent quality this is a subjective measure, as is almost everything in art. It can only be evaluated by you for you. I think it is a function of the scene itself and how it interacts with our values and our mood. Sometimes we just don’t feel it, even though the artist right next to you thinks it is spectacular.
It may not be what you wanted or hoped for, but it is what it is. Work with it.
Another difference is our perception of the scene. The reality is that most of us are not surrounded by world-class, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities everyday. Most of what we see is rather average. An average scene offers the opportunity to exercise our creativity by making it interesting. We have to work hard to make something of it. This is valuable exercise. It is not a bad thing.
As a matter of fact I will assert that the rare, unique, wonderful scene may not be that much of a creative opportunity. If the scene is amazing in itself, we may only have to record it. Yes, it lets us use the technical and compositional skills we have spent a long time developing to capture it well, but we actually don’t have to do much. Just don’t screw it up. It can be exciting to know we captured a rare and great moment, but it may leave us a little unsatisfied because we did not contribute much to it.
Dealing with the average
Mostly we encounter more mundane, average, day-to-day scenes. How can we build or keep our excitement going when surrounded by ordinary?
I have stated before that I like to go out empty and let myself be drawn to subjects. Still, just in wandering around randomly I mostly encounter pretty average things. If I think there is something there, the exercise is to be able to make it above average. Can I see it differently? Is there a better angle or lens choice that would bring it out to advantage? Does it need to be simplified? Or juxtaposed with another element to make a different statement? Does it need different light or even a different season?
My friend Cole Thompson says “I believe the real test of creating isn’t cherry-picking great images from great locations, but rather to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. To be able to find something remarkable in my everyday surroundings.” Very wise.
When I am able to take an ordinary subject that I am drawn to and make it into something special it builds excitement in me. It gets my energy flowing. I become more conscious of other things around me and more empowered to go after them. It is a reinforcing cycle. It helps me see other things as well.
Ideas to being back excitement
Working with the ordinary is one process that is very important to get me excited. Each of us is different. We have different values and expectations and points of view. So there is no simple list of “hacks” that will work for everyone. But let me give some suggestions to try:
- Set yourself projects to work on. The thought process of concentrating on a fixed subject causes us to focus and think different. It can be energizing.
- Travel. A change of scenery can help to change our perspective.
- Shoot with someone. The interactions and discussions can be stimulating and refreshing.
- Take on a new style or technique. It doesn’t have to be a permanent change, just something to shake up the norm.
- Make it look strange or absurd. It helps you see it fresh. This is the Russian Formalism technique called “ostranenie”. It is interesting. More on this another time.
- Go to a museum. Not just a photography museum. Studying works by masters can never hurt.
- Look at other work. Read blogs and other artist’s web sites. Get books of art. Get more familiar with the way other artists see the world. Do not copy them, but feel free to steal. 🙂
- Find what gives you joy. A sense of joy is an important driver for excitement. Know what works for you.
- Get out and do it. Really. Just making yourself do it can lift you from a funk and get you going.
Shoot for yourself
One of the most powerful motivators is reserved for a select few.
Do you consider yourself a “fine artist”? One of the definitions of that is that we create work for ourselves. If you are in the enviable position of creating art to please yourself, take maximum advantage of it. Follow your instincts. Don’t worry about what you see other artists doing.
When you get excited about a subject or a location or a technique follow your feelings. Work it to see what develops. It may be something entirely new that you become extremely excited about and that changes you. Or it may end up not being interesting to you and abandoned. Either way, you followed your artistic instinct. This builds excitement.
You don’t get a hit every time your swing, but it is important to keep swinging.
Is it work?
What is the difference between work and art? Maybe nothing. Please don’t read this blog as saying we should sit around waiting for the muse to visit us. Or to think you shouldn’t go out today because you just don’t feel any excitement.
Most of the things I describe or suggest are active. Based on taking positive steps toward creating something. We have to work at it. Action leads to feeling.
So whatever inspires you and creates excitement for you, don’t just think about it. Get out of the chair or up from the couch and go do something about it.
Finally, here are some quotes to reinforce that concept:
Motivation exists, but it has to find you working. – Pablo Picasso
Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week. – Joel Grimes
Inspiration is for amateurs. Us professionals just go to work in the morning. – Chuck Close
Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn. – John Wesley