I recently had the opportunity to speak with a young artist. You know the kind: fresh faced, energetic, so full of ideas they can’t sit still. He was talking to me about his art when he sank into his chair enough for me to notice. Being both concerned and nosey, I asked him what was up. He leaned back, looking at me with large, dark eyes and explained that “people kept saying” that his photos were weird. I took a moment to consider who “these people” were, but I realized it didn’t really matter.
Unintentional tirade is both unintentional and…um…tirade-y. You never know how passionate you feel about something until a poor, unsuspecting kid has a sad, so I told him a story.
When I first gathered the courage to share my creativity with the world, I’d joined a group on Flickr.com where a novice could share a photo and the “professionals” would comment on the good points and give feedback on how to fix technical bits that might not be at their best. That sounds great, right? I thought so too. I could learn from people who knew what they were talking about. That, however, is not how it went.
I posted a photo I’d taken that had received some decent feedback from the general population. When I posted it in the group, a fire storm of “you suck” fell upon the comment section. It was completely unexpected. There wasn’t a single comment about trying a different focus in the shot or adjusting settings. No. There was simply note after note of negativity and even some that could rate as flat out rude behavior. While I can handle my share of trolls and critiques, I’d never faced this before. I almost packed everything in right then and there. If the “pros” thought I was crap, then I must be crap.
A few weeks later, that same photo was published as a cover on a small literature anthalogy. It was my first publication.
I told my new friend my story and then I looked him in the eye and added this:
Do NOT listen to what people say.
There will always be someone who doesn’t like your art, you, what you do. It won’t be good enough, smart enough, or clear enough. It will be bad, weird, stupid, or horrible.
Do. Not. Listen.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter if not one other person on the planet “gets you”. Make the art that you love. Say what you need to say. This is the voice that you were given, the one that makes you happy. If it defies convention, then so be it.
The trick is to sift the advice that will elevate your art out of the sea of negativity. It’s one of the biggest lessons to learn. Find the inspiration and shake those voices that simply want to tear you down because they are there and they are not going away.
I’ve grown as a photographer, artist really, since the deluge, but I can tell you it wasn’t because I was told my work was terrible. It was because I kept my voice. I worked at my craft and onwards I went.
Critics be damned.