Focusing on Art

As we come to the end of this amazing year, it’s time to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future. I feel fortunate to have had another year of success in photography and business, and am looking forward with a sense of optimism and freedom. As an independent artist I am fortunate to be able to pursue any avenue I can make sustainable. This year, I’m markedly moving my focus toward the creation and business of art, and I think there’s a good case for anyone in a creative field to start moving in this direction as well. Here’s why.

1. Personal Vision – There is really only one reason that I feel able to justify selling my work to private collectors or commercial institutions at a rate that affords a sustainable lifestyle. That reason? Personal Vision. If I can’t bring something unique and captivating to the table throughout my career, I’m just a commodity, easily replaced by a cheaper version. But if I’m in a constant process of refining a truly personal view of the world, then I’m the only one who can create the work that I create. Refined art from the soul is irreplaceable and has immense value.

2. Creative Freedom – If Personal Vision is the end, Creative Freedom is the means. As I look back on my body of work after three years as an independent artist, much of the work that speaks to me most strongly was created in the days before I had steady commercial work. It was created when I was on missions of exploration, self funded and self driven. I’ve had the good fortune to have collaborated with some fantastic, creative people at some great companies in the recent years, but one approaches the creative process differently when there is a defined deliverable and there’s cash on the table. My current mode is one of hunger to get back to a state of pure exploration, literally and artistically. From this wellspring comes my energy, my vision and my sustenance.

3. Safety – The wilderness can be a harsh and unforgiving place. Survival requires preparation, luck and a great deal of clarity. There are a lot of people who have merged the worlds of commercialism and adventure. There are big dollars attached to many a life-or-death pursuit in the outdoors. Projects built on this foundation are in danger of lacking that critical element of clarity that makes long term survival possible. I intend to continue to explore the rugged and remote places of the world, but my aim is to keep my plans liquid, my goals artistic and to place  the safety of myself and my partners at the pinnacle. When creating art, the experience, whatever that may be, is the destination. When working on assignments, ‘success’ is the destination. I seek to create art.

4. Longevity – Hardcore adventuring in the mountains with professional camera gear is a young person’s game. I train hard to keep up with the athletes I shoot, while carrying more gear and covering the same technical terrain. For the time being, this is a viable pursuit for me, but there will come a time when I can no longer hang with the fast kids. It’s just life. If my entire identity as a photographer is based on this foundation, then my career is a ticking time bomb. On the other hand, if my foundation is one of unique artistic vision, I can apply the vision to infinite subjects and it can evolve with me as my interests and skills change.

5. Permanence – If you’re in any way involved in the creation of content these days, whether it’s photography, writing or making cat videos, you have probably experienced disappointment around the fact that a piece of work that cost you blood, sweat and tears to create is just an infinitesimal blip on the screen. It will invariably be replaced almost immediately by the next photo, story or cat video with some mass appeal. This is neither the fault of the content consumer, nor the next creator who bumps your content out of the spotlight. It’s just the nature of a world wherein we have access to an unending stream of amazing work. But this impermanence has limits. Printed art beautifully displayed tends to stay put. Incredible photography books are not frequently replaced. Museums do not rotate their exhibits at the whim of an algorithm. Work that is elevated above the concept of ‘content’ and respected as art has a chance of leaving a lasting impression. I seek to chisel my way into this pantheon as I continue to refine my craft.

This is my framework for creating a lasting legacy. I’m interested to hear what you’re doing in your craft to play the long game and to stay engaged and relevant throughout your career. Holler in the comments, I can’t wait to hear your game plans.

10 thoughts on “5 Reasons I’m Focusing on ART This Year (and maybe you should be too).

  1. Thank you very much for posting this article.
    I found it very interesting and true.
    I read it now, at a time when the same questions resonate in my mind. Great inspiration.
    Thank you Scott.

  2. Strong words Scott and an even stronger vision. I love it. The only life worth living is an examined one. Your commitment to a longterm vision geared towards the art that gets you out of bed and not the ‘work’ that ticks a box is fantastic. Godspeed my friend, keep fighting the good fight.

    Cheers,
    Scott

  3. Hey Scott,

    Although I agree with the first fours, I tend to have a different opinion on the last point: “Work that is elevated above the concept of ‘content’ and respected as art has a chance of leaving a lasting impression. I seek to chisel my way into this pantheon as I continue to refine my craft.”

    How do you ‘elevate’ a work from simple content to art? Does making a beautiful print makes the difference? Or is it already starting in the process of creating the photograph? How can you even make the difference between ‘content’ and ‘art’?

    I’m pretty certain that ‘content’ can become ‘art’ without you even thinking of it, the opposite being also true: how many pre-supposed pieces of art have I perceived only as just-another-(shitty)-piece-of-art-(?)…

    This is a very personal matter and I don’t think it’s important to create art or not. The only thing that in my opinion matters is to create what we love the way we want, to listen to the inner voice that keeps our passion alive. And I deeply hope that, art or not, you’ll continue follow this path.

    Anyways, whatever the way you do it, I wish you the best of luck! 🙂
    -julien

    1. Julien,

      A very interesting topic to be sure. I really love your bringing up the fact that a great deal of ‘art’ out there might barely qualify as content in my book, or vice versa. How any given piece of work is received and classified by the world at large is almost entirely out of our control. For me, the important distinction lies in the mental framework of the creator. The work that I seek to classify as art in my own head comes in the form of pursuing longer term projects with a strong thematic basis and no commercial underpinnings. The specific output can vary, whether it’s a print, a book, a film, etc. It’s just a shift from the mentality of ‘feeding the beast’ to one of committed exploration of something that has deep meaning to me personally.

      1. “pursuing longer term projects with a strong thematic basis” : I’m glad you’re pointing that out. I think too much photography work — especially in the landscape world — has no intention to fit in a larger scale project and this is what I find is missing. And it’s too bad because some are really good.

        Of course, it’s always nice to let your mind wander free once in a while to freshen up your vision, but keeping the frame of a bigger project when photographing is IMO what can make an image really shine. Is that what we call ‘art’? I don’t know nor do I care, but it’s just that making and then seeing a photograph in a project or alone can be a totally different experience. I kinda like to see a project with over-the-top photographs reaching higher horizons within the story, lifted up by photographs whose role is solely to support these 5 stars photographs. I feel in this case like another dimension is added to photography.

        Thanks for your answer Scott 🙂

  4. Your thoughts are expressed very clearly. Good to know you are doing well and continue to strive for your best work. I am proud of you Scott.
    Love,
    Aunt Diane

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