Saturday, November 22, 2008

Late bloomers

I've been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about an article from Malcolm Gladwell that appeared in the New Yorker last month. "Late Bloomers" is the title of the article.

I've liked Gladwell for a while, but this article raised my appreciation for his writing to new level. I'm very thankful for this article.

In the article, he compares "child prodigies" to "late bloomers." He illuminates the difference between Picasso (who began producing powerful work in his 20s) and Cezanne (who plugged away for decades and produced his best work at the end of his life).

Naturally, I'm reading something of my own situation into this article. Because I've been panicking just a little lately. I'm in my mid-30s! I should have accomplished more by now! I'm sunk! It's all downhill from here! (Et cetera, ad nauseam.)

One of the bits from the article that I appreciated most was this quote from economist David Galenson, discussing the "slow burn" approach to creativity from the Cezannes of the world:

The imprecision of their goals means that these artists rarely feel they have succeeded, and their careers are consequently often dominated by the pursuit of a single objective. These artists repeat themselves, painting the same subject many times, and gradually changing its treatment in an experimental process of trial and error. Each work leads to the next, and none is generally privileged over others, so experimental painters rarely make specific preparatory sketches or plans for a painting. They consider the production of a painting as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it; they typically believe that learning is a more important goal than making finished paintings. Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods. These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goal.

Boy, does that resonate. The quote talks about frustration, but I was so heartened to read it: Maybe there's hope for me! Maybe there are still good photos in my future! Maybe it's OK that I feel stalked, haunted, hunted by work still begging to be made.

I have begun seeing my therapist again with some regularity. She helped me through my divorce, and after that, I gradually tapered off my visits. But lately it seems like it's time to get back into a conversation. Last time I saw her, we started talking about photography again, for the thousandth time, about how frequently I dream about photography, about how I "don't know what I'm doing with it," but how I feel deeply compelled to keep working at it. Every time I choose not to follow it or engage with it, it feels like a self-inflicted wound. It feels like a big old lie.

She said, "I'm glad you're bringing this up now. I think you should bring some of your work in with you next time, and we'll talk about it." She is an artist herself, and someone I admire hugely. This feels like it could be an interesting conversation.

So, here I am, Saturday afternoon, ordering some prints for our session coming up this week. I have no idea what will come of these sessions, but it feels so good to open up the conversation about photography in a place that is totally safe. I'm taking prints of Amy with me (above). The photos I most recently shot were of her (see also this photo and this pairing). She is an inspiration and a favorite model. These photos feel like a good place to start.



  • Wow- there have been several times that one of your entries really spoke to me, and really, really resonated with some of the things that I feel too. This is one of those entries. I've been thinking the same things- that I am in my mid 30s (I am 33) and I feel like I have not done enough with my career and my art, and that time is slipping away. I struggle with my photography as well, and wonder whether it is art or just a way to pay the bills (and it doesn't even do that entirely). I also came late into another field, the one that does pay my bills (for now)- graphic design. Because I lack confidence often, I doubt my photography skills and artistic sense. Because I essentially taught myself graphic design, I often doubt my skills there and don't feel "legit." I'll be interested to see how your journey plays out. I think you're amazingly talented, but I understand what you are going through so much!

    By Blogger LJH and Co., at 5:48 PM  

  • Thanks LJH :) I hope you'll feel comforted by the fact that you've got *lots* of company in this area.

    Second guessing ourselves seems to be second nature for artists like us. And so the expression of our artistic vision must be more deliberate (a slow and steady building) than that of a Picasso (a grand flourish, a roman candle).

    I hope you will read that Gladwell article. (I've read it about five times now.) One of the things I found so liberating about the article is how it reminded me that the act of shooting is its own art. I'd become a little hardened in my views about my work, believing that I'm only "successful" if I shoot a great photo. The article reminded me that for us Cezannes, just going outside with the camera and taking photos, paying attention for a while, is part of a larger artistic "success." It all contributes to our learning and to the development of our vision. Everything helps.

    I think the idea for me at this point is to just stay true to what I know and love about photography. Learn as much as I can, and give my obsession to the process rather than the product.

    By Blogger romanlily, at 1:21 PM  

  • Thank you for posting this. I can so relate, mid-30's, divorced and soaring on the inside to do more than I have and yet how do you get there from here? I've been chasing music since I was 19 and now in the 3rd wave of the scene, I still feel more like a fan than an artist, yet I produce and produce (but in seemingly obscurity). I won't settle in love either, I can't just watch TV, drink wine and go to shows. But all this comes off as unappreciative and overly demanding. So I work/pray/sit alone. Wanting to be connected with a woman who still wants create and see the world (not just prada and babies... not immediately!). I am drawn to younger woman, usually post-college, because they still have these ideals, but it hasn't quite worked, I think it was the experience gap.

    Anyways, I'm being long winded.

    Perhaps our paths will cross in Atlanta.

    By Blogger ELund, at 8:14 AM  

  • lily -
    love your writing, identify with your artist's conundrum. i have to keep reminding myself it's in the journey, not the end of the year reported earnings, or the contest entries. . . although those would certainly help!

    could you maybe RSS your feed so i could check in with you regularly?


    By Anonymous tari, at 12:42 PM  

  • Thank you ELund and Tari.

    ELund, I know what you're saying. One of the things that the wise men don't tell you is that living with deep integrity is often a solitary affair. Growth has a way of ushering you to increasingly unpopulated terrain. It's not for the faint of heart.

    Better to be a man who can stand on his own than a boy begging for praise. The TV-watching, wine-swilling, show-going dudes are a dime a dozen.

    Tari, I'd love to RSS my feed, but, um, I don't know how. (Words of advice gladly accepted....)

    By Blogger romanlily, at 2:09 PM  

  • tari - fyi there are links to RSS and ATOM feeds on the left of the site:


    Just point your aggregator to these and you'll know whenever anything new is posted!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home