The Illusion of Confidence

Artistic endeavors are interesting things. In order to be accomplished, in any sort of way, one has to develop the underlying craft. Now, I’m not using that word in the pretentious way I hear it being used, e.g., “I am devoted to my craft,” she said, brushing stray strands of ermine from her face. No, I am talking about the grunt work that it takes to perfect the “art.”

For photographers, that means learning about composition, lighting, shutter speeds, camera types, angles, and more. It means you need to understand what the Rule of Thirds is, what vanishing points are, and when to use, or ignore these and other rules. It means you spend hours poring over texts, taking test photos, doing post processing. It means failed experiments with lighting and accidental delights. In short, it means work.

For writers, there are just as many technical details to learn. You need to know how to structure a story, what good pacing is and isn’t. You need to know grammar and spelling, editing and proofreading. You learn word usage, sentence structure. And then you read, read, read. Soon, there is no such thing as reading for pleasure — all reading is education, although some you get to enjoy.

Over time, you develop the skills, perfect the tools. Then, if luck persists, you go out and apply them, and hold your breath, and await the boomerang of criticism.

We wait, breathlessly, do artists. It’s not that we are weak-minded. Neither is it that we lack backbone, and need the affirmations of others to substitute for our own fortitude. Rather, it is that confidence in artistic endeavors are either transitory, or altogether false. Rarely is good art absolute, and when it is, you can be certain you are in the presence of a master.

Rembrandt was always good; so much so that even today we cannot tell his work from his students’. Why? Because his style came to define “good,” no matter how briefly. Van Gogh? Not so much. Was he good? Great? Did his work improve after his death, or did we become enamored with it because we love the sorrowful romance of his life story? We’ll never know for certain. All we know is that now, his work defines “good.”

And so it goes. No matter how many words I write (700,000 in my books, to date) I will never know whether they are good or not. The reason is simple: I don’t determine what is good. That is determined by those whom read them. Are popular, poorly written books (Shades of Grey, for example) good, or well-written, unread books that slipped off the shelves into the netherworld of dusty back bins good? Is it good because we say so, or because it was read? Is a photo a masterpiece because a million eyes have seen it, or because those few who have were moved enough to weep?

It’s not for me to say.

All I can offer is that I’ve been photographing since I was 12, and have been serious since I was 16. I have no idea if I’m good. I know I’m okay, as my work gets enough attention to qualify as okay. Is my writing good? Is Roxx a good book because one reader loved it enough to want to remember the words, or is it defined by those who started reading and didn’t finish? Is the book excellent because each chapter in the 2nd half is better than the one before, or poor because it doesn’t race to the ending like the Hunger Games trilogy? What the hell difference does it make?

What defines the gift a work brings is how it is remembered, or, more accurately, if it is remembered. Whatever I write will be judged a success or failure long after I am gone. If a child, who is not currently alive today, laughs, or cries, at one of my stories, then I am a good writer. Until that happens, I’ll work under the assumption that I am not. Not yet.

Which means, of course, I have work to do. And work. And work. And work.

Because it’s not a craft, unless you are crafting it.

12 Comments

  1. Hanno Phenn says:

    You are speaking right from my Soul, Bill.

  2. Bob Mills says:

    Bill. This makes great reading, and demonstrates clearly your wisdom and your humility. Both of which, in my book at least, are truly admirable traits.

    You really do understand your subject/s, and further more, you can accept that everybody’s views and opinions will inevitably vary widely.

    The fact that you are so realistic, about how people reading, or viewing your crafts, might actually be interpreting them, once again, shows an empathy, that is pure in its sincerity.
    It’s strange how the most gifted people I have been lucky enough to meet in my life, have always seemed so humble.

    As it states so accurately in the words of ‘Desiderata’ “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should”

    You are a very gifted individual Bill. but more importantly, you have a good heart!

    1. Bob,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. For a man who claims not to read, you always come across as a wise, learned man. But then again, the best that I have learned hasn’t come from books, and my father, who doesn’t read much, is the wisest man I know.

      Blogging is interesting, in that you put out a persona of whom you think you are, and you get back something wholly different. In this case, it is comforting to get back more than I thought I was.

      Thank you.

      1. Bob Mills says:

        To quote a learned friend I know: “Just being sincere my friend”

  3. Carissa says:

    This. So much, this. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your continual encouragement, Carissa.

  4. amberafrica says:

    You are a very talented and inspiring man Bill!
    Have a good night.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I appreciate it a lot.

      1. amberafrica says:

        Oh, I need to thank you for this post, it has inspired me to complete my study of photography after some passive years 🙂

        1. I’m glad! That must mean it was you for whom I wrote this. You are very talented; I can only imagine what you’ll do from now on.

          1. amberafrica says:

            Thanks, I abandoned my studies and kept postponing it due to my health, and all the lame excuses I could find. Its high time to get back on the wagon to get this done before turning 40.
            Thank you for a great blog!
            Have a good night and much greetings.
            Shari

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