When first starting out, it’s natural to surround yourself with supporters, friends and family and “fans” of your work. Their positive words of encouragement, pats on the back and “way to go’s” are nice and satisfy an artist’s need for a confidence boost from time to time. Nothing is better than a nice pick-me-up from folks who know you, care about you, and want to see you succeed.
But there will come a time in an artist’s life when he/she realizes that he/she must take his art to the next level. And the only way that can happen is if he or she takes the brave next step of looking at his/her work self-critically to identify those areas needing improvement and taking the necessary steps to correct any errors or mistakes going forward.
I reached that point this year. I knew that I had accomplished all that I could accomplish ON MY OWN, and that I wanted and needed to take my work to the “next level” (I understand that this may mean different things to different people). I knew that I was ready to grow as an artist. So I did three things.
First, I joined a community group of women artists of all stripes who have committed themselves to meeting every month, sharing plans, discussing short/long-term goals and holding each other accountable for making sure we all stay on task regarding what we have committed ourselves to accomplishing this year. Now they aren’t going to be critiquing my work per se. But – and this is very important – they will help me brainstorm projects and tasks, offer valuable suggestions and feedback, and help me to course correct if I venture off my chosen path.
Next, I joined a Project 52 group this year, which commits me to sharing an image of my own choosing every week with other participating photographers. I understand that at the end of 52 weeks I will have a body of work that will mark my growth as a photographer. Along the way, as I interact with others in the group, it is my hope that they will be able to help me look critically at my work so that I can improve.
And finally, and most importantly, I have put it out in the Universe that I’m looking for a mentor and a teacher…someone with whom I can establish a one on one relationship, who can critique my work with an objective, dispassionate eye, and then give me concrete suggestions, tools and feedback for improvement. I wanted someone who has a knack for deconstructing images, someone who can look at my work and tell me in no uncertain terms what I can do to improve any and everything from my technique, to working with the proper camera settings, i.e., shooting in manual mode, being more strategic about picking my shots, and many other areas in order to improve the overall quality and depth of my work.
I made a conscious decision to put my ego aside so that I won’t get in the way of my own growth. I’m the type of person that always thrives on challenge and the opportunity to show someone what I can do. And I know from experience that one on one mentoring relationships have always worked well for me AND, that when the student is ready, the teacher will come.
Most importantly, I’m committed to working really hard over the next 12 months under the watchful eye of a mentor so that I will be ready to make some strategic moves when Year Three rolls around.
The point I’m trying to make is this: Help may come through a support group of photographers, or a teacher or a mentor or an experienced, seasoned photographer who can help you grow and develop as a photographer. The bottom line is to get some, and the trick is to figure out what works for you in your situation, and what your comfort level will accommodate. Mentoring relationships may not be your cup of tea, but I laid out a few options aside from mentoring that may be of benefit to you. All in all, if you are looking to be successful in photography, or any endeavor, for that matter, you can’t do it in a vacuum.
I would love to hear from you in the comments on how you benefited from being mentored, mentoring someone else, or working within the confines of a group to take your photography or other endeavor to “the next level.”
Peace and blessings,