A Public Examination of a Private Process.
I'm thinking thru things today, weighing a new venture and the new intersections on the great ven diagram of my life. The process started me down the prickly path of self-exploration that we usually leave untrodden because we have to confront a topology that's at odds with our unexamined version of self. And that implies making real choices based on our higher vision and against our default positions which usually represent the paths of least resistance around the more interesting rocks and boulders in the streams of our consciousness. And sometimes just becoming very clear about the things we know we should be doing is a red flag invitation to nervous anxiety, stress and internal rationalization and pain.
But when I chug my way through the contents of the thought process and then examine the dregs at the bottom of my cranial container, in yet another attempt to read my own tea leaves, I'm left with the same old questions: What am I doing? What do I know I would rather do? Why aren't I doing that?
I'm pretty well convinced (and I'll admit it's easy to sell myself on ideas and rationalizations.....) that, on some level, I'm trying to do what I consider my art. But I feel like a baker whose core business is mixing the cake batter and baking the cake only to find that I can't concentrate on, or finish with any panache, any part of the baking process because I'm too busy answering the phone, meeting the flour delivery at the back door, rushing a check over to the gas company to prevent the untimely interruption of my fuel supply....and just as my cake mix hits the perfect consistency and needs to be hurried into the greased pans and married up with the ovens the process is interrupted by the metaphoric tinkling of the bells over the front door and in comes that customer who always needs more than just a cake. They need a tangible, fungible affiliation and bond with the artisan baker. Then I'm torn between batter separating and the necessary massage of the littered, languid egos that also need artful attention.
In the end the resources that promise an ultimate confection are squandered and diluted. The timing is off. The resources misallocated. The cake is "okay", the frosting "serviceable". And the customers, who were partly culpable, overlook the mediocre product because they've convinced themselves that they are part of the process and that, by extension, we are all bakers and all part of a confectionery team.
The emotional need to defend the choices of their patronage assures that the doors stay open so we can go another round and the ragged process will continue....but always at a level of distraction and dilution....until the only time I can really make a cake is when the shop is closed. Where there is no customer for the cake but me. Baking in the early hours of the morning before the heroin-like cellphones compel my patrons to share into the process and keep me multi-tasking while the milk curdles and I ask myself "why the hell did I open a bakery in the first place?"
Most of us have too many choices. Too many ways to communicate. And face it, if you are paying hundreds of dollars a month for your smart phone don't you feel guilty about wasting the money you pay if you don't use it? And we have so many choices in PhotoShop. Don't you always try working with an image in two or three ways before you finally commit? Just because you can? You could eat a sandwich on the loading dock of your studio and then get back to work on that project or you could break up the momentum and rationalize that lunch with the intriguing but long-winded colleague. Of course you need to run out for coffee. Of course you need to compulsively check messages and e-mails and "research" that next camera, on the web. You could also write a novel while you are at it. Or bake a cake. Or climb Mt. Everest. But the reality that really bites you on the ass when you reach your 50's is that you can't do all these things and do them well. In fact, I've met very few people who can really do more than one thing at a high level. I mean a really high, kick ass, level.
Where do we get the hubris to think that we can do so many things and keep any proficiency at all? So, why am I writing all this? I told you in the title that I'm making a public examination of a private process. How do I decide what to do and what not to do? Everything sounds pretty cool when it's presented. All invitations are both a logistical communication (where and when and what) as well as a gentle, seductive touch on the ego (they really want me!). A manipulation. But if you are the least bit presentable and sociable the invitations and opportunities to fragment and dilute are nearly endless. So how do you choose? What to do and what to leave?
You need some quiet time to figure out your priorities. I recently turned down a book project. It sounded fun. But it didn't move my process forward. Didn't have anything to do with MY art. It was another project that was really an attempt to monetize a knowledge base. To squeeze some extra profit sharing stuff I found out the hard way.
I know that some people can compartmentalize stuff so they can have their cake and eat it too. But I'm way too linear. I can't just do a project for the money anymore. At least not projects that will take four to six months out of my life. If I'm not shooting for clients I want to write stuff that I'd love to read and I want to shoot images that I love to look at. I may be out of touch with the times but the idea of monetizing everything is as appetizing as cake frosting from a can. But every time I accept a project that branches off from my core I resent it, I regret it and I vow never to do it again. Until the next time someone tells me that I am smart and creative and we should do a project together.
1. Projects should be an extension of your long term artistic goals or you should leave them on the ground for the person you are not.
2. Life is short. Do real work. Not work about work.
3. Photography is about the creative process. Teach that and stop teaching the plumbing side of it.
4. Money isn't everything but creative freedom almost is.
5. Time is more precious than anything but love.