If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being
As many know, I spend most of my days practicing medicine, so my thoughts and opinions are those of a middle-aged person coming into photography as an art form. I did not choose to be a photojournalist, travel,
or forensic photographer who tries to show reality as it is seen photographically. I chose landscape photography to express something deep within my soul. The words and images of that “something” will likely consume the rest of my life to be able to expess.
My artistic and creative life is very infrequent and sporadic, yet I pursue my artwork with the same intensity and discipline as my medical work. I guess I just do not have an off switch.
Creativity is not a valued asset for traditional practitioners of science-based medicine. However, art is a much different discipline based on subjective experience and expression.
Branching off into the world of expressing one’s subjective experience as art is diametrically opposed to the teachings and practice of medicine. Art encourages experimentation and creativity that has no consequence except acceptance or disapproval, while medicine demands a rigor of adherence to standards of practice, peer review, and science-based methodology.
Medicine and Technique
The accumulation and incorporation of vast amounts of information into a workable understanding is paramount in medicine. That is a synthetic function, not a creative one. Pulling together many diverse pieces of information is like putting together a puzzle. The pieces are already known. It is just up to me to make sense of it by putting it together in a coherent whole.
It is also important to have that workable understanding be in concert with others.
Sometimes medical professionals read or hear something that seems to suddenly trigger a new understanding. That new understanding often brings a sense of seeing something that perhaps others may not have seen or appreciated. Medical training teaches that this is an extremely dangerous place intellectually and needs to be mitigated by peer review.
One of the hallmarks of critical thinking in medicine is to never completely trust one’s personal experience without sharing it with one’s peers and forming an opinion in agreement with others in medicine.
No wild hairs in medical practice!
Art and Creativity- a different way of thinking
Early in art training feedback from others is vital and following the path of those who have gone before is imperative. However, as that feedback and training diminishes in meaning, one is eventually faced with the great dilemma of art. Should I continue to follow and copy those whose work has helped get me to this place or should I try something new, original, and previously unspoken?
That is often the same dilemma in medicine. Should I follow the past 30 years of my experience or try something innovative that has not been proven by others?
That is also the great jumping off point in art. Should I follow the path others have laid before me or bushwhack through the forest to see what I discover that has yet to be seen?
In medicine one never bushwhacks off into the woods without careful counsel. Not so in photography or art. To grow, one must eventually develop some expression different from everyone else.
Camera Proficiency, Artistic Poverty
I have great sympathy for those lifelong technical professionals in their mid- or later years who turn to photography and expect to immediately be able to make images with great aesthetic appeal. I consistently see these individuals come to workshops or post images on various sites with camera proficiency but artistic poverty.
They seem to think, like I did, that moving into art is easy. They, like I, thought being at the right place at the right time (like all of Ansel Adams images I loved) would make up for their lack of artistic understanding and expression.
Most of those technical professionals I meet seem to quit sharing their work after some type of feedback that to progress they need to understand the art of photography. Sometimes I hear them say that they just don’t have the time, or they don’t want to take their hobby so seriously as to make it “art”. Yet these very same individuals seem to get quite irritated when they attend a workshop and are told they need more work in order to develop a more artistic approach to their photography.
I get it. I was the same way until I finally had to eat my pride and accept that I needed to start over in a discipline in which I had no training or even basic understanding.
When I first started out in landscape photography, I felt so creative, because everything I captured with the camera was new to me. What was new was indeed creative. My experience was truly one of new-found creativity. That exhilaration was the first step into my path of art. Only later did I realize that my initial work was not terribly creative. But that is okay, as at the time, the sense of creativity propelled me forward.
So, the first step in understanding one’s potential in art is realizing that what one is initially creating is indeed something new and original. But there is more to making it into that “something more” we all want from our art. That “something more” is the personal expression we put into our work that speaks from our heart and can never be copied. It is that one thing that will never be expressed if we do not express it ourselves.
For most of us mid-life technical profession folks, we need to understand that being creative is far from easy. The mechanical and methodologic processes we have used for decades in our primary career only impedes our path to a creative personal expression in our photography.
It requires some unlearning. And that is hard to do.