It took me nearly ten years before I called myself a photographer. Upon my first encounter with photography, I fell in love with it and knew it would play an important role in my life. It restored my sense of awe in the everyday sights I seemed to ignore, and gave me the agency to highlight what I thought was worthy of appreciation. To further my newfound craft, I found myself experimenting with different types of cameras, indulging in photo-editing tutorials, taking portraits of friends and family, and even developing what I saw as my own photographic style, one that reflected the unique light of each of my subjects. Even after all of this, I still could not find the power within to call myself a photographer.
In the back of my mind, the photographers were the advanced professionals: they weren’t photographers because they owned expensive cameras, or because they had practiced photography for a long while, but because they were able to produce praiseworthy shots every day, multiple times a day. The ability to develop a constant flow of content had gained them thousands of followers, extensive portfolios, and the right to demand hefty prices for their services.
Whatever name it goes by, and however one experiences it, every creative eventually comes to a point where they feel an immense amount of pressure to create, solely for the sake of creating.
What I went through was not imposter syndrome, nor a lack of confidence, but something creatives of all crafts go through. Writers, novelists, and poets call it writer’s block, while creatives of other crafts may call it a creative slowdown, or a lack of inspiration. Whatever name it goes by, and however one experiences it, every creative eventually comes to a point where they feel an immense amount of pressure to create, solely for the sake of creating.
This realization is usually followed by an encounter of one’s limits, and a risky tradeoff: you can consistently create, but not without jeopardizing what makes your art yours. Despite the pressure to create, a creative’s worth is not determined by the frequency with which they produce content: what makes a creative a creative, or an artist an artist, is the amount of passion they put into their work, and how their work gives voice, validation, and visibility to those who consume it.
The Pressure To Create Is Omnipresent
The temptation to be seen as a prolific artist instead of a holistic artist is not uncommon. For some, the pressure to create is tied to authenticity. If you are a real artist, then surely you shouldn’t have a problem developing art on a regular basis. For others, the pressure to create rises out of competition. Recognition of one’s work is hard enough to gain alone: in a market full of other competent creatives, one’s work can stand out on the basis of frequency. The idea of quality over quantity is upheld as a guideline in a plethora of creative arts, but why is it not practiced on an individual basis? One could point to capitalist culture as one of the first culprits.
Capitalist culture places a high value on profit maximization: it convinces us that we need to constantly create, produce, and develop.
Capitalist culture places a high value on profit maximization: it convinces us that we need to constantly create, produce, and develop. It tells us that our worth is not derived from the quality of our work, the power of our words, or the influence of our creativity: instead, our worth begins and ends with quantity, profit, and productivity.
Applying a capitalist mindset to creativity is dangerous not only because it disregards the value of passion and ingenuity, but also because it’s a one-way street to exhaustion. When you put your mind, body, and soul into your art, it consumes energy. It reminds you that you are human, and just like any person of any other profession, you need periods to reflect, rejuvenate, and renew. When you place productivity at the forefront, you not only endanger your art, but your own health and wellness.
Another culprit of creative production is what can be called the trauma market. There is a saying in journalism and news programming that goes if it bleeds, it leads – stories about violence, misfortune, and conflict tend to occupy the headlines, house twitter feeds, and center everyday discussions. This focus on misfortune has translated to the arts, especially the larger realm of creative writing.
The Emotional Toll of Creativity
Pain, sadness, loss, and violence represent common themes within creative writing. Like insecurity, greed, and nearly any other emotion, sadness can be—and has been—exploited for profit. If poetry helps you navigate sadness, or if you are able to offer hope and healing through writing about sadness, then you are doing a service to yourself and those who read your words. However, if you feel obliged to milk your sadness for the sole purpose of producing more content, you’re hurting both your creative process and your healing process in the long run.
I found the power to finally call myself a photographer when I stopped drawing my worth from how many outstanding shots I could produce, and began drawing it from the sense of awe that I helped restore for everyone who viewed my photos. The temptation to publish photos simply for the sake of publishing pops up from time to time, but ultimately, it is no longer a determining factor in my work.
At the end of the day, your art is yours, and your relationship with it will determine where you draw its worth from and how it inspires people. To those who are going through creative slumps, and to those who don’t seem to have enough time in the day to let all of their creativity out – keep creating, but at your own pace.