When good is not good enough

I was a good project manager. I had a drive to get things done and understood what is needed to herd cats from start to finish. And one of the precepts a project manager lives by is: ‘Good is good enough.’

This precept refers to the quality specifications that the project result needs to meet. If everyone strives for the highest possible quality, time and budget specifications are not met, and team members squabble endlessly about the definition of quality. So it was important at the beginning of a project to define exactly what was meant by ‘good,’ and stick to that definition unless there was a very good reason to let it go.

I was a good project manager and juggling the constraints of Time, Budget, and Quality suited my temperament well. I’m not cut out to be a perfectionist.

How different my life is these days as a photographer! A photographer is an artist, at least as far as I’m concerned. Especially now, in the days of digital photography and social media, the art of photography has become so democratized that the world is inundated with good photos! To be an artist these days means that one must make photos that rise above the average and strike the eye.

Why on earth would I want to do this as a retired person who practices photography for fun and enjoyment? Well, my drive these days is to inspire people, so they will learn to love and respect nature. To inspire, technically perfect photos are not enough. One must create something unique that makes people sit up and take notice. Art is about excellence.

I’m very good at criticism and, as friends have said, I’m my own worst critic. So I’m sure many of you are starting to feel the urge to reassure me that you absolutely love my photos. But that’s not why I write this post. What intrigues me are the barriers I meet on the way to excellence and their universal character. Photographer or not, I’m sure you’ve run into barriers like this at times.

I’ve hinted at the first barrier. The hunt for excellence means dogged persistence: not being satisfied with a good shot but going back to the same location, same subject again and again. Different light, different angles, different seasons… until you get it just right. As the great Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

It’s about perfectionism, about seeing the little twig in the corner of the photo that shouldn’t be there because it distracts the eye. It means that it can take weeks, even months, to get the right light, the right angle, the photo you had visualized in the first place. And, to be honest, I’m not very good at this. I just want to get the job done.

The other barrier is the reluctance to take risks. That technically perfect shot of a beautiful bird or sunset will evoke oohs and aahs from everyone who sees it, even if it has been made hundreds of times before. The more creative, innovative image may not be liked at all. It may even generate criticism from the photographer’s community, my brothers- and sisters-in-arms. How can I be sure it’s good? Or even better than good?

We all have a little voice on our shoulder saying, “You aren’t as good an artist as you think you are, so stick to the things you know people will like.” In Julia Cameron’s amazing workbook for artists, The Artist’s Way, she helps people get to the root of and overcome this hesitation.

I believe the world needs excellence. I know that ‘good enough’ has helped get things done in the past. Maybe not the things that benefit the world in the long run, but we did the best we could. Or did we? To get out of the mess we’re in, I’m counting on the artists, the visionaries, and the deep thinkers. Those who are only satisfied with excellence. May I contribute in some small way.

3 Comments:

  1. Excellent blog, Maddi! Thought-provoking! But isn’t there also a smidgeon of good fortune involved? In having your art recognised, I mean. With so many talented people out there, sometimes it needs more than being or creating the best to get recognition and publicity. Not for the honour, of course, but in order to reach the widest possible audience with your message to love and respect, nurture and protect, nature.

  2. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    I enjoy looking at all the nature photographs that you and others share. I am never aware of judging the pictures as I view them, but I almost always find one photograph that literally takes my breath away and makes me gasp in awe. Then I try to determine what it is about the picture that affects me so profoundly. Sometimes it is the feeling of an emotion, sometimes it is the detailed beauty of the subject itself , or sometimes the discovery of something I would never have known save for the opportunity of viewing the photograph. Whatever it is, I am grateful for the feeling that comes with viewing artistic excellence.
    There have been so many of your photographs that have moved me. Thank you!

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