making peace with your motivations

by julie posted October 14, 2009

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s taken me this long (at 30 years of age) to finally realise that sometimes the hardest thing to understand is what’s inside you. I remember reading The Alchemist where the boy has an actual conversation with his heart, and I sort of glossed over it at the time as being an obvious thing to do, just written about in a metaphorical sense. But since then it’s itched the inside of my brain, because I’m not sure it’s something I’m able to do in any sense.

If you ask yourself a question, you might not tell yourself the truth. You might wonder why on earth that would happen, but it’s almost like our selves are made up of a whole community of little personalities, and each one has its own agenda. I’m not talking about multiple personality disorder here, it’s basic stuff that seems to run through the course of the history of psychology. I think I’ve mentioned it before but the book The Happiness Hypothesis mentions lots of different schools of thought on psychology all having an element of how the self is split into two or more parts, each one having different motivations – sometimes conflicting with each other. So when you ask yourself a question, which part do you listen to? The sensible bit that has learned the rules of society? The carnal, self preserving bit that acts on pure survival-of-the-fittest instinct? Is there any way to even realise which bit has the strongest voice in answering? That’s not even taking into account how we save up all the criticism we’ve had over the years and build it into one ‘voice’ that makes itself heard when you”’re feeling a little wobbly and sends you into a spiral of self loathing. Ok, I got a bit drama queen there, but I think we’ve all done it.

This does have a link to photography, I promise.

It’s one thing to say that art is subjective, and there is no easy way of measuring ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That’s why when people enter photos into camera club competitions, they get judged on sharpness, composition, vivid colour or range of tones, and ‘impact’. Those are tangible things you can, to a certain extent, quantify and compare. This is stuff I’ve said before. But what happens when you take the first thing I was talking about, and think about it in conjunction with this telling the truth stuff? To be more specific, I suppose I’ll give the example:

“Why am I doing this? Do I want recognition for being good at it, or am I happy just pottering along, pleasing myself?”

The obvious answer is that there’s no need to please anyone but yourself. But that’s the sensible answer, the one we are taught by society to believe is right. Some people are happy to admit they are in it for the money, some relish the competition of the marketplace and use sales to measure success. But what happens when you”’re conflicted, and your heart won’t answer that question? When you’ve told yourself long enough that the opinion of nobody but you matters, that it’s all about taste so what someone else thinks is irrelevant, but you still have a horrible, guilty, sneaking urge to put yourself out there on the offchance, the vague hope that you’ll be regarded (by some at least) as talented and good, but you hate yourself for wanting to do that? I also realise that marketable!=good, so success in that area may still end up leaving me feeling empty if that’s actually what I’m after.

I think it would make things a whole lot easier if we could suss out just what it is we’re really looking to get out of any given situation like that, and make our peace with it. I’ve been having the urge to try and break into the gallery scene, and it’s bothering me that I don’t know why I want to have my stuff on a gallery wall – or rather, it’s worrying me that I may be doing it for the sake of a bit of chin tickling. I need to know that if that is why, I’m comfortable with it – but also that I’m prepared for it not to happen. Telling yourself you don’t care about something then being slapped in the face when it fails is not a nice feeling, doubly so. If you”’re clear about your motivation from the start, you can be more ready to deal with the possible outcomes and how they might make you feel – and more importantly – how to get over it and keep going to try and reach that goal. At the moment all I can do is look for other possible motivations, and try them all on to see which feels genuine – that’s the closest I can get to a conversation with my heart.

13 Responses to making peace with your motivations

  1. Very good post and lots to think about. Most people have some sort of ego that needs to be stroked, I think it’s the human condition. There’s probably lots of things that we could say “I don’t care about that” but if we’re being honest it’s we really do.

    I’m really glad that people feel that need though, because otherwise we wouldn’t have all the great photographers, music, plays, books, artists, films and any other kind of art/crafts/culture. Thank God people do feel the need or we’d live in a very boring world.

    Now I want an invitation to your first gallery show!

  2. Don’t hold your breath :p

    I wouldn’t want to infer that it’s also black or white – there are other motivations which can be complicated. The concept of doing the sales thing to make enough money so you don’t have to also have a day job, and allows you to commit your time to your work is another possibility.

  3. Wow, this post rings so many bells with me! I just finished The Alchemist, and loved the scenes were he spoke to his heart, but found myself wishing my inner voice was so certain, and knew the answers! I’ve been struggling, because I think I’m not sure what kind of photography, and what kind of success I’m after. It sounds so simple and so obvious, but I genuinely don’t know what’s tugging me and what’s motivating me the most; I just keep shooting and afterwards trying to analyse what gave me the biggest rush, the biggest sense of contentment.
    As for you – please lady, find a way to make some of your wonderful work available for purchase. I’ll be the first in line!

    • I was surprised how many people responded to this saying that they had felt the same sort of thing. I’m not sure whether it helps to shoot more, and as you say, see what feels right, or if there’s another way to ‘tune in’ to what that little voice is saying. At the moment I feel I need to do some looking backwards because I’m drowning in images and I need to stop photographing without intention for a while, to get my bearings.

      I’m still working on some little prototype calendars and things so I can start up on etsy, and I’m still very nervous about it so thanks for the encouragement :)

  4. Good post Julie.

    Not sure though that you’re making a distiction thats not neccessarily needed.

    Pleasing yourself should be what it’s all about and making an income from that, or gaining popularity etc, is a huge added bonus. I don’t see the conflict in that!. Achieving either, could be measured as some kind of success and indeed it is. However, I’d look at it much like winning a photo competition, you’ve won, but may not be the best photo. People exhibit your stuff or buy it for a variety of different reasons, they may indeed not even like it much.

    If you can achieve both, with the minimum of compromise to yourself, you’ve given yourself, time, income and satisfaction for the furtherance of your art as you wish it.

    Being successful does not mean you are good, only you know that!


    • I do take your point, and the word ‘should’ in the first sentence is the bit I’m struggling with. What I think *should* be the only thing that really matters at the end of the day. And I mostly thought it was. But then the thought of some kind of rejection after actually putting my stuff out there doesn’t leave me back in that place where I was happy with what I was doing, it makes me question the whole thing. And if that’s what effect it has, it’s clearly not the case that my opinion is the only one that counts, to me. That’s kind of the whole problem. There’s also the little caveat about ‘achieving both with the minimum of compromise to yourself’ which is bothering me – because what you like may not be what is marketable, if you do want to succeed in the latter, you may have to concentrate less on the former.

      We should continue this in the pub…

  5. It’s easy to forget that the human body is made up of about 3 trillion cells (ish, it’ll probably be less if you’re very short) and if that’s not a community action then I don’t know what is. There are very literally an awful lot of different parts of you that you’re better off ignoring most of the time.

    I think people get used to not paying attention to what they want quite young. When you’re older, you’re expected to snap out of that a bit. It’s not particularly nice :(

    • How succinct – and how true. I could waffle on in reply but I don’t think I’d actually add anything, so I won’t.

  6. Great post, Julie: I’m 47 and am navigating the middle passage, or the second half of life. One of my favorite authors, James Hollis says in his book The Middle Passage:

    “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?”

    It sounds like you are touching the tip of the iceberg. :-) You don’t sound like you are willing to be on autopilot anymore, but want deeper answers, a greater understanding.

    I’ve had the same questions as you about a gallery showing? Why? Why not? Am I afraid to do it because I feel that it will flop? Why should I be afraid of a ‘flop’? It has no bearing on me or my art. Would I do it because I want to be recognized? What good is recognition? If I don’t believe in myself, why would any external validation be valid?

    I wish that I could provide you with answers, but I can only supply more questions. :-) Looks like you’re starting on the edge of your questions. Keep shooting. Keep questioning.

  7. As someone who is a bit further down the path than me, then, would you say it helps to shoot more to see if that allows you to understand better what’s going on inside? I don’t want to get paralysis by analysis but at the same time I don’t want to go out and shoot blindly, until I have a better idea of what I’m trying to do. Is that why you enjoy varying your subject so widely, kind of liek what Nathalie said above?

    • Julie: I try not to analyze too much. I just go out and shoot what catches my eye, what I’m in the mood for, or, if it is a low energy day and I still feel like shooting, what is convenient.

      My photographs, if analyzed, are always analyzed after the fact and when in a different mood. They take on different ‘flavors’ based on how I’m feeling at that time.

      The question that I would ask is: Why worry about what you are shooting? Shoot. Often times, we get caught up on things of little consequence, like what to shoot. :-)

      What’s going on inside varies so much, I believe, that no single stream of photos could offer much in the way of enlightenment. We are constantly changing, dying to one thing, being born in another.

  8. I photograph stuff that pleases me primarily, it’s an added bonus if it pleases somebody else (and it does) and I make a few €€€ out of it. This expensive hobby has now become self-funding.

    I think gallery angst is intimately linked to vanity, personally.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *