It’s Complicated

A surreal landscape

Last time I wrote about the cognitive theory of vision that says we have a library of images stored in our mind and we automatically match them against scenes in front of us. This time I will say, it’s complicated. Nothing in life is that easy and straightforward. The simple theory can’t explain everything.

To reference one of my favorite quotes from The Count of Monte Cristo (movie version). “it’s complicated”. Life and art is. A model, like the model I described last time, is a simplified version of reality. It may be useful to explain some things, but it cannot fully describe real life.

The safe path

If it is true that we are drawn to reproduce images we already know we like, we get stuck. Now, I think many people would acknowledge that this is true and they spend much of their career remaking the same images. Maybe they are OK with this. It is, after all, safe and comfortable.

I can only speak for myself, but safe is not my goal. Safe gets boring and all the same. If I were a wedding or portrait photographer I’m sure I would have a different attitude. I’m not, so I can get as far “out of the box” as I want.

Where is creativity?

If we only remake images that match our mental library, where is the creativity? Where is that spark that takes us completely outside the normal? What causes a change of direction?

The answer is: I don’t know for sure. But I know it happens. While I believe creativity is a learned process, it is undeniable that it sneaks up on us unexpectedly sometimes. Maybe we intentionally go out looking for something new. Maybe a familiar scene make us ask a question that leads us in a new direction. Sometimes we might have just had something weird to eat and it sparks our brain in a strange way.

Be receptive

I believe creativity is something you can practice and stimulate and cultivate. But those things only encourage it to happen. When it happens, when something new hits you out of the blue, you need to be receptive to it. Sometimes our natural reaction is to resist the risky new “thing”. We may not even recognize it as an entirely new direction at the time we first see it.

Embrace the new idea. Run with it and see where it goes. At worst you decide you don’t like it. Better to have tried and failed than to not try at all. At best, though, it may change you. It may be a new viewpoint on the world.

Think of Bilbo in The Hobbit. He did not want to leave home, but he came back changed in ways he could never have imagined. Most of us are not inviting life changing experiences like that when we follow a creative instinct. But it may be a close as we come.


I’m an artist. If I go through life taking the same pictures over and over, because that’s what is in my mental library, I am stale. I thrive on creativity. I enjoy following my curiosity to find new things. I am refreshed by expanding my vision in new ways. It makes me grow. It keeps me young.

I embrace creativity, not for its own sake but for what it does for my vision. When I grow to a new place in my art I find I need to add some new images to that mental catalog and maybe remove some that I do not care for any more. That is life. That is growth. It’s complicated, but awesome.

Let me know what you think!


Abstract paint

Outcome vs. process. I believe this is a source of frustration and confusion for many people. I know it took me a long time to learn the difference. Outcome is the result we would like to achieve. Process is what we do.

We seek an outcome like being selected for a gallery or winning a certain award or being published. The reality is, we have no control over these things happening. We can seek them and create opportunity, but other people make the decisions. If we are not chosen we will likely never know why. Not getting the outcome we want may be no fault of ours and it is not an indication that we are a failure.

Should Have Given Up?

J.K. Rowling’s synopsis and sample chapters for Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times. He was so discouraged he threw it away. Luckily his wife retrieved it from the trash. The winner I could find was Kate DiCamillo’s 473 rejections before Because of Winn-Dixie was published. The persistent and popular Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield was rejected 144 times. Canfield later wrote. “I encourage you to reject rejection. If someone says no, just say NEXT!”

All of these examples are for novels, because that seems to be the easiest to find documentation for. I believe it applies to all art, and to most of life.

Most of us will never be a J.K. Rowling or a Stephen King. That is not the point. They almost weren’t them either. If they had gotten discouraged and given up they would not have made it. The gatekeepers making the determination of who is worthy are not all knowing and all wise. Sometimes they are very blind. Coming to the realization that I cannot control their decision is a significant step in my growth.

What We Can Control

Anthony Moore had a great post recently that resonated with me. HIs point is that true champions focus on the process. They practice; they develop their craft; they become the best they can be. They realize they have to put in the long, boring, lonely work to achieve excellence in their field.

He says “Ordinary people focus on the outcome. Extraordinary people focus on what they can control — the process.” This is a hard message. I want to be chosen. I want to win. But I need to realize that I cannot make someone pick me. All I can really do is continue working to become the best I can be. Maybe that is not good enough. But if I am the best I can be, that is all I can do.

As a matter of fact, life gets a lot easier when we stop trying to run the world and instead focus on what we can control.

I don’t want to oversimplify or get tripped up in words. The world is not neat and simple. Sometimes the outcome is critical. If you are doing work for a client, it has to meet or exceed their expectations. If you are shooting a wedding, for instance, you can’t say “oops, I didn’t get it; we need to redo the wedding”.

This kind of outcome is the work we deliver. We can and do control that. The outcome we cannot control is whether or not we get selected to shoot the wedding.


So when I am discouraged, when I have been rejected, what I can do is commit to doubling down and focusing on my process. I will intensify my technical and artistic effort and I will also become good at marketing. I realize that I cannot make anyone select me, but I can do important things to increase the likelihood that they will.

All of this: technical, artistic and business is part of the process required to succeed in my art. More importantly, I need to always realize that my goal is not to beat someone else, it is to be my best.