Choosing an Artistic Direction

Whether it is deciding on a college major, what your next job will be, or where you’re going for the weekend, life is full of choices. Bad choices can be short detours if corrected quickly, but they can also have long-term consequences and be difficult to overcome. Artists have the luxury of being able to experiment with different genres, but to be taken seriously (assuming that’s what you want) at some point it becomes necessary to choose a path and stick with it. At least for a while. Choosing an artistic direction can be tough.

Some people seem to be able to stay focused on one mode of expression for extended periods of time, often becoming very good at their chosen art. That is a knack I envy, and I think I represent a majority when I say “that isn’t me.” Most artists and artistic people I know are driven by curiosity, and curiosity tends to be fickle. My primary interests include writing, music, three-dimensional arts (mainly wood), and graphic arts including, naturally, photography. There are countless subdivisions in all of the above that are in endless competition for my time and attention too. Only one of those pursuits produces the income that supports me and my family, and that is generally how things work out. There are simply not enough hours in the day to become good at everything.

But the mind does wander, and I really do enjoy flirting (better make that “need to flirt”) with other modes of expression from time to time. This is not a bad thing, because there is something to be learned from every discipline that can be brought home and applied to the main occupation. At least that’s my excuse.

How does this apply to photography? If you are naturally drawn to a specific subject and are happy concentrating on that one theme, you can probably consider yourself lucky. The rest of us need to sort out our priorities. Landscapes and portraits, for example, are both “photography,” but they demand quite different skill sets and discipline. The fast track to excellence in either category is to focus and do nothing else until the desired skills are acquired. This applies to your position in the world of photography too. You won’t be able to appeal to all of the people all of the time, and people generally find it easier to accept work from a specific artist that follows an identifiable theme. Here’s where a wrong decision can have long-term consequences. Once you’re labelled as a “landscape photographer,” or whatever, it becomes difficult to break free without going back to the bottom of the recognition scale. The more that is at stake, the harder choosing a direction becomes.

So what advice can I give?

  • Be prepared to choose a specific artistic direction.
  • Try to choose wisely.
  • If you do mess up, have the courage to change course as quickly as possible.
  • If you don’t give a hoot about being taken seriously, just have fun.

Good advice … think I’ll try to follow it myself.

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