Start with intention, let go of result.
I often think of James Koehler, who passed away prematurely two years ago. I was fortunate to work with James, helping him with his website, watching him work in his studio, and talking with him about his creative process. James was one of the most focused people I have ever known. A master weaver, James was a stickler for detail. He kept meticulous records, from dyeing to managing his stocks of fiber media to the method of weaving his incredible tapestries. And yet, he was always open to following the path of his creative process, not fully knowing where it would lead. He had faith. He told me that, even with all of his planning, he always ended up creating a result that was surprising, even to him.
This is, to me, the essence of artistic endeavor. You begin with an intention, but you let the creative process carry you to the final result, with a somewhat controlled “letting go.” This attitude echoes the definition given to me by another artist whom I greatly respect, Dean Howell. Dean very aptly describes the difference between art and craft. With craft, Dean asserts, you begin with an idea, and, depending on your skill, you end up with a product that you had visualized. But with art, you begin with an intention, but the result is something you never could have imagined.
Of course, this approach can lead an artist to keep revising, embellishing, improving. Which is why, in the words of Paul Valery, “An artist never really finishes his work; he merely abandons it.”
All of this leads to my thoughts about the art of photography. All of us photographers, at one time or another, have found that “one great image”. Our natural response is to seek out those conditions that will allow us to make another image that is equally wonderful, if not greater. And so we become trapped by our own success; we become imitative of ourselves! We happened to photograph a particular scene, location, person. We revisit the idea, hoping to create another. Rarely do we succeed. That is because the element of surprise, synchronicity, whatever you may call it, is fleeting, of the moment.You cannot consciously recreate it.
The blessing hidden in this curse is that the photographer, or any artist, for that matter, eventually lets go and moves on. But only if they keep creating with the mind that allowed them to find that masterpiece in the first place.