Here’s the thing: there is no right and wrong when it comes to art. Whatever you are making is the right thing, and I want you to remember that.
When I was 14-15 years old I started taking pictures quite a lot, and I quickly fell in love with photography. I mostly took pictures of leaves and flowers really, but I absolutely loved it and I was always so proud of my images. When I existed within my own world of creating, I kind of didn’t even think in terms of “How could this be better?”. The images were just there, and I liked them, and that was everything I needed.
It wasn’t until I joined a class of almost 30 other photography interested teenagers in high school that I started to really feel insecure about my photography, because suddenly realised how “different” my stuff was from what the other people in that class created. The main thing that I realised was that I never took pictures of people, and I didn’t want to. (Note: It wasn’t even that different, but for an insecure teenager it was CATASTROPHIC.)
I remember one person in that class said once that they didn’t think images without people were “interesting”. Which made me panic – of course – because it basically confirmed everything I had feared. That my images of leaves and flowers and nature weren’t “interesting” or “good enough”, and that I wasn’t “good enough”. I started to try to force myself to create in a way I thought the others would appreciate, a way I thought was “interesting”. But it made me MISERABLE. SO MISERABLE.
Which was a sad thing, because this meant that I felt miserable about the things I used to love as well as what I thought everyone else would love. The times we were forced to take pictures of people in photography class are still some of the most anxiety filled days I’ve experienced. Almost ten years later I still feel sick to my stomach when I think of those moments. And of course – cringe until there is no cringe left in the world.
This became such a struggle for me during the three years I went to that school. I was convinced everyone else thought I was worthless, and also slowly convinced myself that it was true. Even to this day, I haven’t 100% gotten over this, and I never really feel the same joy photographing flowers as I did as a teen.
What I have gotten over however, is the idea that some art (photography included) is worth more other artforms. I’m still a bit shaky on this though, to be fair, and sometimes I convince myself that what I create – not the specific things but the genre or technique – is less worthy than, for example, a realistic oil painting. But I always stop myself in these thoughts and force myself to think again, because I know that it isn’t true. I know that many people adore photographers who take stunning portraits, but probably just as many adore the ones who photograph flowers. It’s a matter of preference, and looking back I’m not even sure that many of the other people in that class even did portrait photography, and I’m sure none of them “judged me” for loving pictures of flowers. I just used the other people in that class to manifest my insecurities, and to convince myself that I was in fact doing the “wrong” thing, just as I suspected.
Repeat after me: there is no right or wrong when it comes to art. There is only different, or similar, or whatever. Even if you’re doing something no one else is – if you’re enjoying it, keep going. Maybe you’re inventing something new. Maybe you’re an early bird for the next wave of creative ideas. Maybe you’re just your own being, with your own definition of what good art is, and you should follow that truth. People tend to talk about how you have to live your own truth, and that goes for creativity too. Create what is meaningful to you, not what you expect to be meaningful to others. What you create matters.
Trust me, it’ll just make you miserable.
(The pictures in this post are all from before and around the time I started high school.)