I’m always pleased when I come across other people who are appreciative and concerned about the issues that preoccupy myself.
Yesterday, via Petapixel, I came across this video essay by Adam Westbrook. It’s number three in a series about process and result and has a lot to say about photography as well as any other artistic undertaking.
Here, Westbrook is illustrating and elucidating a concept initially amplified by psychologist and theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi is concerned with process, what he terms ‘flow‘, and its role in personal satisfaction. Flow is not a new concept, essentially a description of a state of being where one is wholly involved in a process to the exclusion of detrimental emotions such as boredom, apathy and anxiety and the embrace of pleasure and satisfaction. People who relish process, as opposed to result, have access to flow because they have removed much of the distraction that inhibits enjoyment of the process by shifting focus to the doing.
Unfortunately, we live in a goal dominated culture. The goal can be getting money, or collecting likes, or winning a competition or any other of many result-orientated concepts, but whatever it is, it governs much of what we do.
The consequence can be miserable. Fleeting moments of pleasure among lengthy periods of dissatisfaction.
From my earliest years, I’ve enjoyed some of the qualities that enhance flow. Concentration, perseverance, patience and curiosity. Too often though, these have been overwhelmed by anxiety or apathy in its most severe form, depression. What I have been trying to do, and I am getting better at it, is to marginalize those negative traits and enhance the positive. In my case, this means adopting and reinforcing an autotelic approach. My beef, and it is one I have come back to again and again, is that conventional and dominant concepts of achievement and success work against this embrace of process, devaluing it to such a state that it merely becomes a means to an end. This perhaps gives me an inkling as to why so much material, and we’ll talk about photography here, ends up being empty and soulless to my view. Nothing of the individual ever really entered the process and the result, tailored only to copy or emulate what seems popular or lucrative, is vapid. Appealing only to those who have failed to understand what true art is all about. Sadly, there are a lot of those people about, but that doesn’t mean that I, or anyone else for that matter, has to blindly follow the crowd.
So I won’t.