Making art is in many ways a journey of self examination through which we discover what is really important to us. During our journey we frequently find alternative paths to the one we are already exploring.
These alternative paths present us with a choice: do we stay on our current course or do we head off in a different direction? This can be an extraordinarily difficult decision – at least in my experience.
I have settled on a few guidelines to help me decide my path:
- Is the new path attractive because it is cheaper, faster or easier than the one I am following? If yes, then it is probably a distraction and should be avoided.
- Does the new path require me to buy a new piece of expensive equipment? If yes, then it is probably a symptom of ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ (or GAS) and should also be avoided.
- Am I simply pushing back against a self-imposed constraint? I often impose constraints on my work (e.g. using a particular camera), and these are sometimes difficult to sustain, especially in the early days of a project. My general position is that these constraints are healthy, and that pushing back against them is a sign that they are important, so I try to stick with them.
- Does the new path feel less ‘true’ than the path I am on? This is a sure sign that it’s a path to avoid – after all, making art is a search for truth.
- Am I reacting to a change in my environment? Environmental changes often feed me with all sorts of new inspirations and ideas. Sometimes these are ephemeral, but sometimes they trigger fundamental changes in how I see the world. If I feel that something fundamental is happening then I believe that I should explore the new path, but otherwise I try to park it in my ‘inspiration’ file.
The bottom line is that making art is not about finding the easiest or most enjoyable path: it is about finding the right path. We have to focus on what’s important, avoid time wasting distractions, and then keep going until we have said all we have to say. And that means we have to make choices about what to say and how we say it.