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The Art of Accepting Failure as an Artist

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The Internet gives the illusion that everybody can be “somebody”. It surely has opened the door for some, but the hard truth is that most of us aspiring artists (including us photographers) remain largely unnoticed for our entire lifetimes, even with the mighty power of the Internet and social media.

Unlike sports, art is more complicated. For a 6-year-old kid starting to play football (“soccer” to those in U.S., Australia, etc.), it doesn’t take too long to judge if the kid has the potential to play professionally in the future. In art, however, it’s much harder to come to such an early conclusion, as artists develop over time and there are many late-starters, too.

Hoping to Be Noticed One Day

In my case, I started photography in my mid-30s as a hobbyist (or so-called enthusiast). In the beginning, it was purely for my self-satisfaction, but over time, I’ve grown a little more ambitious, releasing an eBook titled Mastering Long Exposure Photography at Blue Hour and wanting my website to be the go-to resource for blue hour photography. So far, I haven’t seen much success yet, though!

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul (South Korea). 24mm, f/8, 30 seconds (with 3 stop ND filter attached), ISO 100, shot 1 minute after dusk. My photography is all about blue hour.

Whatever genre you’re in (be it photography, music, literature, visual arts, etc.) or whether you’re a full-time starving artist or doing as a side-gig like myself, I see many people trying in their 30s or even 40s and beyond without much success, yet still hoping to be noticed one day.

Losing a Desire to Be “Somebody” When Reaching a Certain Age

When reaching a certain age, though, we’d probably lose a desire to be “somebody,” though I don’t know what age that is yet. Personally, I’m going into my late 40s and still haven’t given up my hope, but I’m fully aware that the time isn’t on my side.

Sometimes I wonder why we seek success in the first place, why we want to be “somebody”. In fact, it’s a lot easier and mentally healthier to keep our art as self-satisfaction, but I guess we all have a desire for recognition, competitive instincts, egos, etc. that make us want to go beyond self-satisfaction and be recognized by others.

Rewind Your Memory and Go Back to How It Started

That said, just rewind your memory and go back to how it started. I saw my son getting interested in drawing cartoon characters at 4 or 5, and now at 11, he’s taking weekend art classes. It seems that he truly enjoys what he does without expecting anything in return.

Kids in an art class. They purely enjoy what they do without thinking about fame or money.

Like him, kids start drawing (or doing whatever genre of art they’re interested in) because they like and enjoy it, not because of fame that they might get nor money that they might make.

As we get old and get close to the other end of our lives, I guess that’s where we’re heading back to, just as the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles said.

A man growing old becomes a child again. —Sophocles

So, once we get very old and let go of a desire for recognition, egos, etc., we’re going to regain a state of mind like a child and purely enjoy what we do, which I think will be a saving grace for many of us.

Failures Making You Hate What You Do?

Do failures make me hate what I do? I sometimes ask this question to myself. The answer is absolutely NO! I’m not going to stop shooting photos even if nobody gives a damn about my photos and what I’ve been doing on my website.

Regardless of getting recognition or not, I love photography, especially shooting waterfront cityscapes with a few minutes of long exposure at blue hour.

The Singapore skyline from the ArtScience Museum. 24mm, f/10, 161 seconds (base shutter speed of 2.5 seconds, with 6 stop ND filter attached), ISO 100, shot 10 minutes before dusk.

It’s not just the final images that I love, but also the time spent on taking long exposure photos under the beautiful blue hour sky, as those are the moments that I slow down, destress, and truly enjoy myself.

At the end of the day, failure is bitter, but my love for photography exists above and beyond success and failure.


About the author: Joey J. is a photography enthusiast, avid traveler, and casual web designer/developer based in Singapore. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Joey’s work on his website and Tumblr. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Stock photos licensed from Depositphotos

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