05 October 2012

A Comment About Validation

Art Model and Competitive Fitness Athlete, Dominique Furuta © 2011 Terrell Neasley
"A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn`t work hard for validation."
- Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg in his acceptance speech in 2005

One of the popular blogs I follow is Photofocus by master photog, Scott Borne. The guy consistently puts out the best in credible commentary for photographers. His writing is superb and he's got a strong history of talent and experience to back it up. He did a post about a week or so ago, "Photographers – Validation is Overrated", but I'm just now getting to write about it. It was going to be my THIRD point in my last blog post, but I didn't think it should be crowded with other material. This one is a stand-alone.

Art Model and Competitive Fitness Athlete,
Dominique Furuta © 2011 Terrell Neasley
At any rate, this is a conclusion I reached a long time ago. I haven't made all the best decisions in my life. As a young man, I had more than my share of screw-ups, mistakes, and otherwise bone-head decisions. However, I did learn early on that VALIDATION was something that wasn't going to be a priority on my timetable. Now I predicate that point with this caveat: I acknowledge there will always be some form of validation that we seek. It may be approval from a parent, coach, or mentor. My point, however has to do with the misguided reasons people have for needing validation as a form of acceptance or permission to move forward. As a young fresh-out-the-can soldier, I already had my 3 main goals I wanted to achieve before I entered the military. In fact, I can back up to age 7 when I first told my grandma I was gonna be a soldier. Nobody believed me when I said I would join the Army. We didn't have a lot of military in my family but I didn't wait on anybody's approval to do it. I made rank fast and didn't give a damn about seniority, except for where Army regulations mandated it. I was a leader of men at a young age with older soldiers subordinate to me.

“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” 
― Confucius

"Practice, research, go to workshops, take classes, believe in yourself. Improve by study, trial and error and go out there shooting."... reads one segment of Scott Borne's blog post. This was the way I operated my military career and its the same with my photography. This has been a recent point of interest for me concerning contests. I won twice in the last year with two international contests (B&W Spider Awards and Photography Masters Cup), each being recognized for 3 or 4 of my images. In both contests, I took a 2nd place category finish. It felt good to be acknowledged. Getting  Honorable Mention for one of my Nudes was by far even better than either of my 2nd Place finishes. I received invitations to participate in each of them again, but I declined them this time.

Art Model and Competitive Fitness Athlete,
Dominique Furuta © 2011 Terrell Neasley

Art Model and Competitive Fitness Athlete,
Dominique Furuta © 2011 Terrell Neasley
Why did I decline to submit more work? I couldn't find a good reason to enter again. I didn't feel a need to try to get a First Place award. I didn't think I needed any further validation of my work. I entered the first time as a change of pace and I had friends doing it. I think I'd rather concentrate my efforts on exhibits instead of contests. Some contests do lead to exhibits, I know. And maybe exhibits are another form of validation for some people. The difference is that I'm not looking for any curator, art director, or notable jury to tell me my work is good. I already feel like its good, else I'd have no desire to show it. I can always get better and improve, but its not always about that. For me, its change. Sometimes I just want to do something different and then show that. And then do something else different and show that. Trust me, some people don't like the new stuff at times, but I don't stop. If I like it and my model likes it, then I count that as a success.

Don't wait on other people to approve of you before you move forward. I've had to take those initial steps without the validation of peers and the public before. You get over it real quick. Stay true to yourself and if its what you love, then damn all the rest. Get crackin' even if it hurts a little in the beginning. Don't be afraid to walk alone when you know you have to.

"If you want to go make photographs…go do it. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you it’s okay! You don’t need anyone else’s permission or validation. No anonymous jerk on a camera club forum can stop you. You just need to believe in your heart that you have something to share. So what are you waiting for? As always, I’m rooting for you!" 
- Scott Borne, paraphrasing Seth Godin


Joanie said...

I think we all give in to the "need" for validation at some point or another. For me, though, the trick is to remember that a jury wasn't with me when I created a photograph and can't possibly have felt what I felt. I know in my heart that my photos reflect what I've experienced and I can't expect anyone else (or the masses) to feel what I did when I created them. If they appreciate the image -- for whatever reason -- great. But it's my experience and I'm the only one who has to be happy with the output. Well, and the client, if there is one.

Photo Anthems.com said...

Excellent point, Joanie. I feel you all the way on that one.

unbearable lightness said...

Such a great post, T. Validation should be unnecessary for an artist as I believe great art is about vision. It goes above and beyond technical expertise or any aspect that can be learned and taught.

It's necessary to receive feedback in early training and to study and learn from the masters. Then the men separate from the boys, as the adage goes.

I can't imagine you ever being anyone except yourself, so keep showing us your unique vision and forget the validation game. Most applause on social network sites is empty and meaningless.

Photo Anthems.com said...

Well put, UL. Feedback is not validation. And I like the line about social networks. Those and many other public forum sites tend to feed the need for validation. Especially, dA. You could feel artist's desperation for comments and approval. Its the same on MM when you see people requesting comments in exchange for their comments. I'll see posts "I'll give 2 comments for every 1 you give me!" I don't get that. I don't get that many comments on this blog, but it doesn't define me. I've been running it for about 4 years now. Wait...5! Wow. I just missed my 5 year anniversary back on August 2nd. I was in Belize at the time. That'll be my next post!!

unbearable lightness said...

I just missed a blog anniversary, too, T. I guess we just don't think that way. Mine was in late September for WHAT WE SAW TODAY. Now I have even forgotten the day. What matters is the post for tomorrow.

Congratulations on your five years! Counting the blog I shared with Iris, it will be five years for me on Nov. 4. Now that one I do remember!

Photo Anthems.com said...

Congrats to you, as well. I knew you should have been coming up right behind me.

Karl said...

I chewed on this reply for awhile. I felt that what you said was true, but some part of it kind of felt off for me. It comes down to the type of validation we seek. I believe that seeking validation and feedback can be the same thing if we are seeking quality feedback that validates the existence of the work.

I just spent some time with my parents and showed them a few of my photos. I got the same "validation" I always get when I show them something that isn't either a landscape or wildlife shot, "that is very nice, Karl". While it is backed by their love for me, it is empty of any feedback or validation in what I created. I love them, but I should know better than to show them my art and expect more.

Earlier this year, I showed you my "Borders" series in your apartment. You took as much time as you needed to look at each photo, each diptych, and to digest it. Along the way, you shared initial observations and then developed critiques on the individual pieces and the series as a whole. You gave me high-quality feedback on what worked, what didn't. You shared praise where earned and what you believed could be improved (or removed).

Your insights into this gave me more validation than the empty, gushing platitudes of my family. It was genuine and made me grow. It validated that I had created something worth sharing and expanding on. For me, this is where validation and feedback meld. Your quality feedback gave me reasoned validation to truly believe in what I created.

I attended a talk by local photographer Todd Hido. I respect his work and wanted to hear what he said. One nugget he shared was that he has developed a small group of two to three contacts that he shares his work with in the early stages. This small group gets what his vision is, knows his work very well, and provides him with honest feedback. They are his toughest critics, but also have his back and want him to succeed in creating stuff true to him. After he gets their feedback, he knows that his work is a much tighter and well crafted creation. Their validation and belief in him both helps him grow and is more important than the prizes, acclaim and praise he gets from outside.

I recognize a large part of what you are writing about is that the validation should come from within the artist. I agree. For me though, it also helps knowing that others I respect and trust to share their views on the beauty and warts of my work agree I am on to something when I truly am on to something. In the end, through truthful feedback, criticism, and discussion, I get a deeper validation in my work.

These photos you shared are stunning. For me, you captured the quiet desolate beauty of the area and your model shares the strength, beauty and sultry allure of that location.

Photo Anthems.com said...

All of that is true, my friend. I tried to differentiate between feedback and validation. The decisive element is whether or not permission is involved. I don't want that to be the determinant factor which says whether or not to go forward with my art or not. I don't need anyone else to make that call for me. You wanted my opinion on your work and I told you what it did for me and how I felt about it. You did not need my permission or blessing to move forward with it. I've noted this in people I've met along my journey in life. They won't move forward with a good idea until an "expert" says its a good idea. I want feedback and input to help me make sure I'm still heading in the right direction. But the decision to begin on the journey is mine, even in the face of ridicule.

Karl said...

T - You just summed it all up so well. Feedback (and its potential validation) is to look and comment on the work, not the intent, passion, and mission of the artist. I agree with this fully.