Sukhothai, Thailand

The Gap

These days I often catch myself reflecting on ways that we can get better at our work–be it photography or any other creative endeavor–that go beyond the simple advice you can find in online forums and YouTube videos.

Consequently, I am more receptive than ever to learning about the meaning of art, psychology, self-improvement, the life, the universe, and everything! 😉

It is with this disposition that I collect what little nuggets of wisdom I can find online. Occasionally I find some that are so good that I can’t help but sharing them, in the hope that they will inspire and help my readers as much as they did to me.

Ira Glass, the host and producer of the radio show This American Life, once said something that touched me deeply. I am reminded of it every time I feel like I’m struggling to get where I want to be.

I hope his words will give you a hint of what you need to do, if you want to grow as an artist.

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?

There is something else that I want to mention here. While you are doing the huge amount of work that Ira Glass is suggesting, it’s inevitable that your work will be compared to that of others. Then you start feeling like you can’t find your own vision, your won style.

What then? How do you find your true and unique vision in photography? Well, I don’t want to give you a direct answer to this question. Instead, I am going to point you to an article by Finnish photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen. A few years ago he wrote about the Helsinki Bus Station theory. You might ask what have buses got to do with art, vision, and photography. You will have to listen to the audio or read it all here.

As always, I appreciate your comments and, if you liked this episode, please leave me a review on iTunes. Thank you very much.

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