The title of this article alone encapsulates its conflicting and often paradoxical nature. As a creator, for the past few years my journey has been visualized as a straight path, heading in one direction and directly upwards. Over the recent few months, that path has begun to expose dead-ends, detours and alternate routes. Not necessarily to more opportunities, just different ones. I began to lose sense of my artistic voice, and the line between inspiration and mimicry was blurred. After seeing several artistic friends open up about this issue as well, I began to step away for a wider view of this phenomenon.
The next portion of this post can be seen as either a positive or negative, depending on your bias and current status in the art community. However, it is all subjective, and rather than call any single party out, it is only meant to offer a vulnerable subjectivity of what I’ve learned through my experiences. Some of you may be able to relate, and others will refute the points. Either way I encourage you to read on and engage in conversation.
For awhile now, collecting accounts of photographers from all spectrums of social media has been a passion of mine. Hearing their stories of how they achieved their current status has been enlightening and stirred me to the point of writing this article. The general theme I’ve gathered is this; Most successful artists on social media have gathered a massive following, and some have been able to make a living off of just that factor alone. However, few artists are satisfied with the cycle of which they’ve become a part of, and nearly none have been able to disconnect from it, including myself.
I believe it’s fair to have the outlook, that as artists we all care to some degree what people think of our work. We create for ourselves, but cater to the public’s opinion. The craft has become the release and the crowd has become the pull. Whichever trend becomes popular, we see a financial profit in it, but lose a little of ourselves on the way to it. This is the point a lot of photographers have reached with or without their knowledge. Through the sale of their personal presets, workshops and overall style, we’ve started making a profit off of who we are as creators. Relating back to earlier on in this article, there is nothing wrong with making a living off of your talent. I personally have come to the conclusion that whereas that process should be celebrated, it is equally important to avoid dividing up and distributing who you are. This affects both parties involved. You begin to create stylistic clones at a rapid pace, and in turn they skip the essential lessons. With this exchange of skills for profit, the playing field is leveled. I can speak to this point, as I have taken part of this process. Before I was able to grasp any of the points I’ve made in this passage, I was trying out other artist’s presets, and mimicking their style because I had seen their success and wanted to gain the same influence almost overnight. Since then, I’ve resorted back to an original style that I am satisfied with, and one that caters towards my own work, regardless of the following it gathers.
Competition can be healthy, and often necessary in the artistic community. Without a chain of inspiration, I would never have been pushed towards the direction I am heading now. Without a source of inspiration, many artists would never have had the ability to pick their voice and capitalize on that specific style. To digress and offer a conflicting point, I believe collaboration is equally if not more important.
I’m not sure that I have a definitive solution, or that one will ever exist. The conclusion I’ve reached is that it is essential to take an occasional step back and view the overall scope of the community of artists living on social media. To collaborate often and pass down knowledge, but refrain from selling your style while allowing others to find their own. To contribute to the variety of the environment we live in and never lose sight of where we began our journey. To create a new generation of artists, who are capable of destroying the current set of limitations.
Never stop creating, and never stop changing. If you make a mistake, make it loud and well. If you seek insight, become vulnerable.