The Things We Do For Love—Why Self-Investing Isn’t Self-Indulgence
“It’s about investing the time to explore and refine your art and finding your creative voice.” – Patrick Shipstad
When a child shows an interest in something like sports, the arts, activities, etc., a parent (usually) wants to nurture those interests to see if they develop into something their child will excel in, or at least have fun trying. That support can include sending them to camp, taking them to practice, going to their games and recitals, and buying them all the special outfits and supplies they might need. I would imagine that it takes a considerable amount of expense and sacrifice to make all that happen. But they do it because they love their kids and want them to explore all that life has to offer.
I don’t have kids. I have my photography, and like any artist’s art, it’s part of me and I love it unconditionally. So I make lots of time to nurture it and I spoil the crap out of it within my means, and with no apologies.
Since deciding that I really wanted to pursue photography, I have been relentless in educating myself in every way I can find. Photography books, DVDs, on-line tutorials, seminars, yearly web-training subscriptions… You name it, I’ve bought it, watched it a dozen times and then went out and practiced what I learned another hundred times. After all that, there is still no guarantee that I’ll ever be a “successful” photographer. Likewise, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars sending your kids to the best schools and the truth is, there is no guarantee that they will have a successful career in the field you spent all that money on. You hope that time and investment pays off, but for many, those years are more about the journey, the life lessons and finding out where they fit in. I think that applies to artists as well. It’s about investing the time to explore and refine your art and finding your creative voice and any time educating yourself or learning from experience is time well spent.
One thing is for sure—you can’t buy a great eye or technical proficiency. Certain pieces of gear can make a photographer’s life easier but no investment in gear can trump an investment in the time dedicated to honing your skills. Although the computers in our cameras and one-click filters can help us “fake it till we make it,” without really putting in the work, it’s going to be hard to grow artistically and become technically confident. Having said that, let’s face it—having good gear never hurts, and shiny new toys are fun! For many years, I’ve gotten a lot of good-natured slack from some of my photographer friends for being a gear junkie. But I’ve never simply thrown money at gear and expected that my work would magically become better. Not at all. One camera and one lens is all that’s required for magic. Everything else is just gravy and I’m just a chef adding to my spice rack.
If I have a curiosity about a photo process or a certain piece of equipment, I’ll take the time to research it ad nauseam and see if it’s something that might work for me. All that is required for me to justify an investment in education or gear is to explore new creative or technical options, to improve on the process or to simply learn anything I can put into practice.
And again I ask you: Do you have any idea how much money it costs to get one kid outfitted to play a season of hockey? Between the gear, league dues, the cost of ice time, etc. it can be literally thousands of dollars (and a lot of your time), simply because they wanted to try it. So why can’t someone invest just as much in their art, even if it’s just to try something new, without being labeled self-indulgent? Investing in yourself (especially time), is a gift to yourself. You don’t have to aspire to be the world’s greatest photographer; if the process simply makes you happy, then go ahead and feel good about giving it everything you can.
Even though I’m relatively happy with the progressions I’ve seen in my work over the years, I’m still nowhere near the photographer I want to be. I don’t know if I ever will be and that’s fine, because I really am enjoying the journey. When you think you’ve reached your destination, there is less motivation to explore and move forward—and I really hope I never stop moving forward. If I never made a dime on my photography, I would still give everything I could to it. It simply feeds my soul to the core, and so I will happily continue to spoil and nurture what I consider to be my child… my art.
About the author
Patrick Shipstad is a photographer living in Los Angeles. In addition appearing on Faded & Blurred, his articles and work have been featured on Fundy Software, Lensbaby and DIYPhotography and in Dark Beauty Magazine. All images © Patrick Shipstad and used with permission.