Recently I watched “The Menu” with Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor Joy.  In it Ralph Fiennes plays an evil chef who has lost his love of cooking due to the pressures of food critics, exploitation of his work, and people who consume his food without really appreciating it.  He is the chef of a super expensive restaurant where every meal is just an “intellectual exercise” and the people who eat there are all pretentious.  Anya Taylor Joy plays a prostitute who is payed by a guy named Tyler to go with him.  She goes into the chefs room where she see’s an employee of the month picture of him from when he was young.  He was just flipping burgers then but with a huge smile in the picture.  Then she see’s the pictures of him after he got famous and he looks miserable.  At the end she tells the chef that he doesn’t cook with love but with obsession and every dish was just an “intellectual exercise.”  She asks him to cook her a cheeseburger and through this humble request he momentarily regains his love for cooking.  The lesson being create with love and not obsession.

This was not a new idea to me but this movie inspired a lot of contemplation on creativity and some deep self reflection.  Often when an artist has their huge hit they go downhill from there.  Most bands get to a point where people aren’t interested in hearing anything new and just want to hear the old stuff.  But why would their songwriting decline?  As they get older they get smarter and their skills should only grow so you would think their music should get better.  So why is it that they peak?  I believe it’s because they get away from what first motivated them to start.  When it wasn’t just about the career and they did it purely out of love.  When doing the work itself was a reward.  When they get away from this it may then feel pressured to keep up the success, to raise the bar, or to stay relevant.  These are not assumptions or generalizations they are only examples.  It may not be any of those things but something made them drift away from the passion or something besides passion started to motivate the process.  Even if not a lot maybe just a little.  This is what leads to creative decline.  When they first got started it was all about the passion but now there’s something negative getting in the way of their best ideas. 

In my last blog I talked about your light half and dark half.  I called the halves “Tourist” and “Intruder.”  The Tourist being the half of love, and all your positivity.  The Intruder being all your negativity, insecurity, and trauma.  There are two types of obsession.  The type that is inspired by love.  Like when you can’t stop doing something because you love it so much.  That is the one you want to have but there’s also the unhealthy one.  There is obsession that is fueled by anything other then the love of doing it. Your Intruder creates this negative obsession and gets in the way of your passion.  I have created from both love and unhealthy obsession.  I hold myself to high standards and I used to refuse to go a day without shooting because I felt I needed to live up to a standard I set for myself.  When I did this in school I just had way too many pictures to show and overwhelmed the class with it.  I had a lot of good ones but way too many.  It also isolated me in my work.  Eventually I learned to slow down and I’m a better artist now.  

Since the pandemic started not a single night has gone by where I didn’t ask myself the question “Am I going to shoot tonight?”  But now I also ask the question “If I shoot will it be out of love or obsession?”  When I ask myself this question I start to think about whether or not I have a concept in mind I feel passionate about.  If I have a story to tell that excites me just to think about I go out and shoot.  But if there’s vision I’m excited about I stay in and sleep.  Because of this I am doing my favorite work I’ve ever done and every shoot is an experience of pure joy.  This idea isn’t just something to apply to art but to all of life.  Maybe you obsessively pursue a relationship with someone because you are afraid of being alone and not because you love the person.  How do you think that is going to turn out?  Or if you overwork yourself just for money and without any love of doing the job how good of a job will you do?

Obviously you want to succeed and make a career but the love of what you do should motivate you first.  Right now I’m a struggling artist and I have to work a job that isn’t inline with my dream to get by.  I’m self critical and I question myself all the time.  The challenge of getting my work has me feeling overwhelmed and lost.  I’m also a terrible over thinker with a lot of racing thoughts that I can’t slow down.  But despite all my insecurity I’m not as humble as most people think.  I believe I’m brilliant and I believe I’m going to be a big name in the Photography world.  I also don’t think anyone loves this as much as I do.  Because the love of what I do is what motivates me that is why I believe I’m going to accomplish a lot in my career.  But even if I don’t I’ll still do the work.

An important question you need to ask yourself as an artist is “If I could see the future and if I saw that I never made a dime from my art would it stop me from making it?”  Obviously you want to make money but if the answer to that question is that you would keep doing it even if you didn’t make money that is the best place to be because that means your drive is fueled by the love of doing it.  That is when the best work is done.  I believe career success as an artist will follow if you create entirely from a place of love and put your work out there enough.  Your passion will attract your audience.  I crave a lot of career success but I take pride in the fact that my love of what I do is my biggest source of motivation and I’ll keep doing it even if I don’t sell a single picture.  That I want to think of a story, shoot it, and look at that finished picture and take pride in the fact that not only I made it but I am the only person in the world who could’ve made it.  It doesn’t matter how many times I do that it never gets less exciting for me.

Something that I am grateful for is that I have learned this while I’m still an unknown artist.  Because if my self portrait series gives me the recognition I think it will someday give I will have a career standard to live up to.  There will be more pressure on me.  But because I know to create from the heart and to uncover my own voice my work should only grow as I grow.  There will never be a decline in the quality of my work as long as the motive is rooted in love.  Love ascends in all aspects of life.  You’re an artist even if you don’t think you are because art is creation and we are all creating something.  Whatever you create do it from the heart.  Never get away from what motivated you to get started in the first place.  The pure love of the craft.

Brendan C.