Create Something, Or Don’t.
Patrick’s article “Don’t bother with art, or do” this week is important. Check that one out if you haven’t already. He talks about various definitions of art and about various reasons that people create it. I love the way he encourages people to just make what they want to make and to not worry about “OMG, is it actually art?”. And yes, I totally based this article’s title on his.
The question of art aside, I see a few reasons that people light paint. Some set out to make a unique creation (okay, this is art). Some people explore a reality that we don’t normally get to see. Some strive to come up with clever moves or technological advances to make light paintings. Some want to be first at something, to make something new.
The Challenge of Creating
Myself, my biggest challenge when shooting is that I don’t want to just shoot something I have already shot before. I like to push myself and try new things. I like to take inspiration from others but I don’t want to just copy what they are doing unless it’s to learn a skill that I’m then going to personalize.
Two things that immediately spring to mind when we think about light painting are steel wool and orbs. Four years into this I haven’t spun steel wool and I’ve made just one orb. I respect some of the cool directions that people are taking both of those things but they aren’t what personally drive me.
Before I started light painting my photography involved creating art portraits of non-mainstream people. I like to capture what makes someone tick and so much of that is conveyed in their eyes and in subtleties of facial expressions. That has made it hard for me to get on the silhouette train.
I want to push myself and try new things. I want to work with people and I want to capture who they are, facial expressions and all. I want to tap into my physics background to explore new things. I don’t get a ton of satisfaction shooting things similar to what I’ve already done and only changing up my model. When I can’t touch any aspects of my satisfaction…. I don’t shoot.
The Challenge of Not Creating
I haven’t really light painted in three weeks.
That’s not to say that I haven’t been working on light painting but other than two hours last week to test a concept I haven’t actually been creating art. And art aside, I haven’t even been creating images.
Instead, my time has been spent working on some new tools. I’m investing my time into creating something that I need in order to get to where I want to go. This involves learning, experimenting, succeeding, failing, refining. What it specifically doesn’t result in during this phase is actually creating anything I want to share with people.
It’s been hard to even look at Instagram. It’s been hard to see amazing images floating through Facebook while knowing that I’m not adding to that world right now. I see people advancing their art and I want to participate but to do so I would need to drop what I’m working on. I’m sure it’s not this way for everyone but when I get into a task I tend to be pretty single-minded until it’s done. I’m very much in engineering mode right now, when it comes to light painting, and I’m not really in artist mode.
Keeping up with the Joneses
From Wikipedia: “Keeping up with the Joneses is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods.”
When this phrase applies to light painting I think it’s less about the material goods and more about feeling like you’re falling behind as other people move their art forward. It’s to feel relevant one day and to feel like you’re living in the shadows the next.
We have a small global community and it’s a good feeling to have your work noticed. It’s a good feeling to contribute to the success of others. “Keeping up with the Joneses” isn’t something to aspire to, in fact, it’s probably the best way to feel like crap and get an ulcer.
It’s a hard feeling to want to create and to not be creating and I want to reaffirm that it’s okay to not create.
I’m a Light Painter
I’ve worn a lot of hats over the years. I used to be “Dan the rollerblader”, “Dan the hockey player”, “Dan the poker player”, “Dan the whatever….”.
For the past few years light painting has been what I’ve identified with the most and when I’m not actually light painting it feels like I’m letting myself down.
But I’m also so much more than a light painter. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to go through periods where I’m not creating new visuals to share with people. Sometimes we get busy, sometimes we get sick, sometimes we just do other things. Sometimes we don’t have inspiration. Sometimes we just don’t have it in us to create.
Sometimes we take a break from making art and instead spend our time making art tools. This is where I am at right now and I have to keep telling myself that I’m okay with that. I’m getting ready to go to the LPWA PNW event and while I haven’t really light painted in weeks I know that when I step into that environment I will create (hopefully with new tools!).
In the meantime, I have to live my life, and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to not shoot every single day, or even for a week or two at a time. Light painters, keep on creating. I’ll sit back and watch and take some inspiration from what you do. Later, when you’re taking a break from shooting, I hope to return that favor!
Title photo by Dan Chick and Hidden Vision Photography