Rules for photographers (and every other artist)


But first, an essay describing the way I conducted my search for an agent is online now at Black Gate. Check it out, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

There’s also this, sent to me in email by a smart friend. They’re rules for “any young photographer trying to survive.”

Here are the rules:

1. Have talent. (Talent is not when your friends tell you they love your work, but when people who don’t like you have to admit it’s good.)

2. Understand how the world works. (Not just globally, but on a macro level. Understand what people need and don’t need. Understand when to approach people and when not to. Develop social skills.)

3. Choose good friends. (There’s nothing like an effective network.)

4. Be modern. (Don’t do anything that looks like it’s someone else’s work. Stay on top of technology. Engage on multiple platforms.)

There’s more wisdom at the dude’s site, but I wanted to talk about this. Also, I want to break it down.

1- Talent: I’ve talked about talent before (but for some reason I can’t find where). Personally, I think “talent” is something you can learn, to a degree. How much of a degree, I don’t know, but if its something people can work on it’s worth talking about, and if it’s not it’s not. I prefer to treat it as something you can control, because otherwise it doesn’t matter.

So: Practice intelligently, study carefully, and work hard. And if anyone remembers where I argued my “Talent is accuracy” thing (I think it was on someone else’s blog) or if you want me to type it up here, let me know.

2- Social skills: Yeah. It’s easy to think of this as outside the work we create, as in: I write a great book but I’m such an asshole no one wants to deal with me. Or readers stumble onto my book, love it, search me out online only to discover that my blog is full of crazy hate-filled crap. Or I obsessively follow people around, IRL or online, continually tweeting at Wil Wheaton that he should read my book and tell all his followers how much he loves it.

That’s… er… not optimal. But there’s a second issue with this: writers who find success are often the people with strongly-held opinions. The writers who find success and last are the ones who can describe the world as it truly is, no matter the genre. I don’t mean they have a perfect understanding or that they’re without flaws, but that their books reflect some insightful understanding of how the world works.

Of course, most everyone thinks they understand how things work…

3- Friends/Networking: This is the one I expect most people would object to, especially the way the author puts it. No one really thinks you should try to make friends because you think they’ll be useful, but it’s also important not to make friends who drag you down. Your friends should make your life better, on the whole. Sure, there are times when you’ll need to support them through a rough patch–hopefully they’ll do the same for you–but if the friend hurts your ability to make your art, you should probably restructure the relationship.

Better is to have friends (and I mean real, actual friends that you enjoy being with) who are doing exciting things. Actually, let me put it this way: Your friends should be good for you. And getting that sort of friend is pretty simple: Be that kind of person yourself.

Have projects! Help people! Do exciting stuff. If someone is doing something that sounds cool, chip in. Maybe a friendship will develop. Maybe not. At least you’ll have done something cool. As the old saying goes, the best way to find someone to love is to be someone worth loving.

You’ll notice I said it was simple, not easy. I’m terrible at this sort of thing and already feel like I’m stretched thin. Maybe someday when I have enough sleep.

4- “Be modern”: This is the one I have the least to say about. Don’t write an 80’s-style fantasy or a ’40’s-style science fiction unless you’re prepared to do something very modern with it. As for platforms, what can I say? I’m always behind the times on new opportunities. I don’t even have a cell phone or a twitter account. Maybe someone else can jump in with useful advice there.