Last Friday I accompanied my 15 year old daughter as she went to the oral surgeon to have her four wisdom teeth removed. I am very fortunate to have the flexibility and freedom to be able to be there for her. It all went well with even a comical video or two of the after effects of the analgesia. I was happy to be there for her. Chloe is my youngest and lives with me here in Ohio. Her older sister Emma is 17 and will be graduating this year from high school in Texas where she lives with her mom. My son Philip, age 30, is making his own way and living his dream near the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Make a difference where it counts, and lasts. The achievements that will always stand the test of time will be those that positively impacted another person’s life. That’s job #1 in being parent and I fear that in all the political noise we’ve surrounded ourselves with has taken some the focus away from why we’re here and what we’re doing in the first place. And it’s just not the political noise. It’s the noise of our own insecurities and fears often amplified due to the inevitable and constant comparisons being made on social media.
As an independent artist and photographer I’m often challenged to constantly bring in new work in a smaller market where I’m well-established, and with growing competition from influx of new photographers and cell phone cameras. I put pressure on myself to introduce to the fine art print market striking, new imagery representing new locations.
It’s always there on social media, is it not? The hipster photographer traveling the back roads of the American West in his custom SUV or retro Woodie Wagon with a Husky in tow and every week a breathtaking sunrise along the coast or in some grand vista of a National Park.
How many photographers can actually make a living from such a “dream job?” Very, very few. Seriously, if any at all. What still surprises me is the number of people I come in contact with who think that’s me. It is not. In fact I haven’t traveled outside of Ohio since I went to visit my daughter in Dallas last October.
All those images I post everyday to my company Facebook page? Old stuff. Lots of it. Again and again. And you know what? That’s O.K. Just last week I posted a canyon landscape that I captured when I lived in Utah in 1999. Six months from now I will probably post it again.
There are some important points I’m making here. One, selling art is not selling entertainment, and unfortunately that’s what the bent has become for the vast majority of artists pushing themselves on social media these days. To entertain and “engage” by feeding this huge, nebulous audience of followers “new stuff” that shows just how exciting the life is being pursued by the most popular adventuresome hipster artist. I think it’s a shame that this approach is being perpetuated amongst art schools and colleges and in a way falsely convincing students that they will actually be able to make a living traveling, blogging and selfie-stick their way through life. They won’t.
The other point to be made is that when we finally learn to accept the blessings and opportunities that are right outside our front doors we find that often it’s through such local endeavors, no matter how “boring” it may appear on social media, where we find our creative voices and more importantly, the type of face-to-face, personal connections that in the long run will be far more profitable and fulfilling. For me one area of unexpected fulfillment has been expanding my photography practice to the field of teaching photography, through field workshops. To awaken the joy of artistic expression in a new photographer with a camera and with the right guidance is worth any National Geographic expedition to the most exotic locations.
The problem we are all facing today is this constant negative energy of adversarial relationships that arise from so many comfort zones and assumptions, especially between generations. Heck I’m already doing it with the use of the term “hipster.”
We need to return to common ground of learning, growth and collaboration. To remain divisive is to continue to keep generations isolated. That’s not good for anyone.
My other point is the most important. Don’t screw-up priorities. It’s easy to do, especially when you work in a field where there’s quite a few unrealistic expectations. That gets frustrating and it simply is not worth it to try to please all people all the time. Look to where and how your work has made a positive impact, beyond the bottom line and short term profit. Having worked as a photographer since 2003, in a number of different locations and for a wide variety of clients and students, I’ve lost count the times I’ve been told what a difference my photographs have made, how I’ve inspired someone to reach out and grow or how simply sharing an old favorite landscape image with some words of support made someone’s day.
And this gets back to the unexpected joys of parenthood. When my daughter selects one of my images from my web site for a project for her sophomore art class and for me to be there when they perform, maybe not all the time because of how things have worked out with distances, but to be there when it matters and to matter to them when it counts, and sometimes you get a goofy post-wisdom teeth video to share to boot.
I’ve put a lot of expectation for perfection upon myself. Artists tend to do that. But at 52 years of age all I can hope for now is just to make a positive difference each day, with my kids and with anyone I’m blessed to come in contact with.
Plant the seeds that no else sees, and anchor your confidence in the joy of the fruit to be harvested long after you’re gone. It will all be worth it.