The Art of Joy

Does being a professional take the joy out of art?

My husband commented recently that I no longer take photos. He was right, and there is certainly an irony in the fact that I’m an artist who makes photographs, but I don’t actually take snaps any more. Taking photographs of family, scenery or objects of beauty as a record or a reminder is no longer something I routinely do.

For me, an image is a narrative not a picture. My husband’s comment made me contemplate my relationship with photography – I have a degree and a postgraduate degree in photography and still love the magic of making photographs but overwhelmingly I am seeking a narrative. By seeking a narrative I have lost the spontaneity of simply pointing my camera and clicking the button.

This year I estimate I have produced no more than 20 images – a figure most people could easily achieve in half an hour. Yet for me it is a lengthy process – working on a series of photographs based around a story takes time because of the thinking, the questioning and the reflection surrounding the narrative. You are bound to work much more slowly than someone who takes a photograph because it is aesthetically pleasing.

The debate highlights a chasm between doing art for the love of it – as an amateur or hobbyist – and doing it as a professional for an income. It’s not just about the volume of work you produce but also about whether doing something as a professional takes away the joy of creating. My work can be painful because my expectations are so high and I am driven to perfection. For me it’s like running a fast race versus someone who plods the course.

Being saddled with me and my drive to achieve takes the joy out of my work because, to me, joy equates with taking it easy, having pleasure in your work and being relaxed about the outcomes – none of which I am able to experience.

The hobbyist gains satisfaction from the processes and the outcomes of their work. By contrast, I continually live outside my comfort zone when making photographs, which makes me anxious even while I’m in the process of creating. I am never content with the outcome and have a prevailing sense of my final work not being good enough.

Would I or could I go back to being a hobbyist? No, because I have a critical eye which no longer allows me to point and click at flowers, sunsets or seascapes. I would get bored if there was no narrative to my work.

Could I give it up? It would cause me great sadness – there is a real love, if not joy, in being able to express oneself and communicate to others. I feel very privileged to have a sense of belonging and to be able to explore, through art, my existence.
Would I have made the same journey if I had known at the start what I know now? Almost certainly, yes.

I’m not putting the hobbyist down or saying that my work is necessarily better than theirs; rather, I am a little envious of the joy they experience.

I recently gave a talk to members of a camera club whose work was very beautiful and of a high quality. Their traditional approach to photography without doubt gives them a great sense of pleasure in the process of taking, publishing and exhibiting their work. I’m wistful of their joy yet resigned to knowing that if I continue as an artist I cannot experience it.

I can’t speak for every other artist, but I know for sure that many feel the same as I do. Painful as it may be, a lack of joy gives me an abundance of determination.

One thought on “The Art of Joy

  1. Hi Tracey, I have spontaneously worked out the solution: I use a phone camera with the ease and joy you have written about. Partly this is about separating different tools for different tasks but partly it is just so easy as you do not need to cary extra weight around and I have it with me most of the time.

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