Musings on Photography

Love and Need

Posted in motivation, the art world by Paul Butzi on February 4, 2009


In my post In Praise of Obscurity, I argued that it was OK to not pursue promoting your photography in search of recognition or financial return.

In response, Lisa Call responded:

“It’s just that perhaps for some of us it makes more sense to pursue contentment than fame or fortune”

I don’t think contentment is necessarily incompatible with fame and fortune. I don’t view it as an either/or proposition with my art.

And, of course, Lisa is right. Go, and read Lisa’s blog, which is on the list of blogs I read regularly because Lisa is an example of someone who is, with great vigor and success, pursuing artmaking with an eye toward integrating that artmaking and earning a living. I can think of no one who has done more and worked harder to align everything in her life with her goal to be a productive, financially successful artist.

So, let me explain my thoughts a little more completely and clearly.

I’m a big believer in trying to align what you do for a living with what brings contentment into your life. For many, many years, I earned a living doing the things I would have done even if there had been no one willing to pay me. During that period, there were two things in my life: my family, and my work. My job was, for a rather startlingly long time, one of the most richly rewarding and satisfying things I’ve ever done – and I made a fair amount of money at it, too.

And as a result, I very much agree with this little snip of Robert Frost, which I surely have quoted before:

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

(Two Tramps in Mud Time)

But being a poem, this has only room for one part of the story. It is possible to be BOTH a computer programmer and a photographer, or a group manager and a photographer, or a lumberjack and a photographer, or whatever. We can love more than one thing in our lives, which is good because if that had not been the case I’d have had a very hard time integrating loving my family with earning a living.

And where that happens, it sometimes makes sense to pick the more financially rewarding thing to pursue in order to earn a living, and leave the other things free of the constraints that earning a living imposes. In fact, in some cases, someone can be free of the need to earn a living at all – they’re retired, say, or supported by someone else.

That doesn’t make the things we do without regard for financial return (or recognition, or whatever external reward there might be) less important. Work can be work in the sense I’m driving at, here, without being ‘work for pay’. We can pursue things seriously without the prospect of fame or fortune. I’m one heck of a believer in capitalism, but I do not suffer from the delusion that something is only worth doing if you can make money by doing it.

And so my point, here, is this: sometimes it makes sense to integrate your art making and your money earning activity. As Lisa points out, contentment is not incompatible with fame and fortune. I’d go further, actually, and claim that it’s rare to achieve fame and fortune doing something you don’t find internally rewarding.

At the same time, I’d also claim that fame and fortune are not the same as contentment, and that pursuing fame and fortune will not necessarily lead you to contentment.

2 Responses

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  1. julie said, on February 5, 2009 at 5:50 am

    Nail on head, Paul. Not mutually exclusive, but not necessarily the case that one automatically follows the other. And a bit of vindication for those of us comparing ourselves to those who seem to value money and fame as the only indicators of success in this game.

    Your image today – a different pair of eyes on, no 100mm macro? It straddles that border between your reality and my imagination, would love to see it on paper.

  2. Lisa Call said, on February 8, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I’m in total agreement – and 2-3 years ago I was right there with you being a professional artist with no goals of making a living from it and very content.

    Then the reality that I don’t like my job made it clear I needed to get rid of that job. So things had to change – it’s not easy to balance the contentment with the new goal of generating $ but it’s something on my mind often.

    I think about what I might do if I won the lottery (not likely as I don’t buy tickets) – would I stop trying to sell my art and go back to just making it? Or am I now hooked on the selling – cause it’s pretty fun too. Not sure I know the answer.

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