Thursday, August 26, 2010

Celebrating mediocrity

I find it very interesting that creative people tend to attract to one another. I find it even more interesting that people in the same discipline tend to stick together. Musicians with other musicians, photographers with other shutterbugs, painters with other painters. The list goes on.

There are exceptions, of course, but it seems to me that we have so much more to learn from hanging around creatives who do something different from what we do. The photography community is great - and it definitely has its own merits. At the same time, some of us never really venture outside our little group of button-pushers, and that's a damn shame.

I spent some solid time yesterday evening talking with an artist I really respect. She's a painter - and she brought up something I understood as universal to photography, but not to creativity.


An image I like - but that isn't GREAT

That is to say - not everything we create as artists is going to be a masterpiece. We might slave and bleed over one particular piece. We might give it everything we've got. But that doesn't by any means guarantee that the art will be beautiful, or that it will sell for thousands of dollars, or that we will even like it!

Photographers understand this all too well. Some create hundreds of snapshots to get one good photograph. Some have refined their art and only make ten or twenty crappy frames for every image worth seeing. The true masters know how they work, and they can get beautiful work maybe one out of every five frames by simply ignoring the crap, and taking their time.

The thing I'd never understood - that surprised me so - was that this affects all creatives. Jasmine Stack, the painter I was speaking with, told me that out of her most recent finished series of 20 paintings, she would only NOT burn three. The rest, as she views them, are mediocre at best - she downright hates one of them.

I've seen the series she was referring to - and I plan on publishing it here if I get her permission. Sure, some are better than others, but I blanched at the thought of her BURNING these paintings. I don't think she spent less than 20 hours on any one of them.

Then I realized - I'd happily burn the vast majority of the photographs that I create. The shots in my portfolio are the only ones I'm really happy with - everything else can get thrown into the fire.

More mediocrity

I don't burn them though, and I don't think Jasmine will end up burning her recent series. Even if a piece of art is less than perfect in the artist's eyes - it can still have great value to an outsider. Someone who can see it from a different perspective may love the one piece that Jasmine absolutely hates. I know people who really like photos that I hesitate to post because I think they suck so bad. It isn't that these people are ignorant about what makes good art. It's more that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

As such, we as artists should not condemn mediocrity. We should celebrate it. Creating mediocre work motivates us to keep going, to keep pushing, to keep creating.

My work is mediocre sometimes. Occasionally it downright sucks - but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop. It means I'm going to keep working, to keep challenging myself and my audience.

I challenge you to recognize when your creativity leads to mediocrity. Instead of feeling downtrodden about it, tell yourself to celebrate Iit will motivate you to create bigger, better and more beautiful art.