The mystery of creation - does it still exist?

A large part of ones admiration for art comes from the unknown circumstances it was created in. How the artist felt when making this piece of art, what went though his or her mind, and ultimately how it was achieved. The creation of art remains mostly a black box, without us ever knowing what it took to get there. And we can only try to grasp an idea of it by looking at the final (perfect) product. Usually, only the masterpieces are shown, no-one surely wants to put his or her worst art in a book, exhibition, or to showcase.

But this idea is severely challenges as the internet and social media steps in. As I have written in my latest post (On the overestimated power of social media as a source of inspiration) the so called democratization of art is in my opinion one of the most positive effects of the internet on the art world. You no longer need a publisher, gallery, or marketing manager to get your work out there. You essentially are all that at the same time (to some extent). Concerning the impact on the black box of creation though, the internet removes a large part of this phenomena. We see behind the scenes material, live updates, and to an extent never thought possible: failures. The realization, that for example even the grand masters take bad images and not everything they touch magically turns into gold.

It just leaves the question if this is a positive thing or not? I believe it is twofold. I surely admire the romantic times of not knowing the odds under which something was created, how the person behind the art really is like, and most importantly how it was done. Looking at art this way, it almost seems otherworldly. Sometimes, you fail to be able to explain and comprehend the work.  It touches your emotions very deeply, and you acquire the idea of it possibly not even being human. 

These times still very much exist, but there is an obvious shift visible. A large number of the newer generation of artist (corresponding to the idea of the democratization of art) work in a different manner. As aforementioned, we are now more likely to share how we achieved something and personally most novel, we sometimes also share our failures and that leaves us with a completely new way art is perceived. Stephen Shore uses Instagram and his iPhone as a new way to share his work in a very different form. It is not like he takes photographs and then shares his best ones, he also very much takes them solely for the publishing in Instagram in a one-shot kind of way he has implemented with his 8x10 camera a while ago in his work (see this article for reference).

We are left with so many options and resulting opportunities to share our work in various forms. Additionally to what always had existed. In the end, no way is better compared to the other. But nevertheless, some of the unknowingness and resulting less restrained way of thinking and interpretation gets demolished forever. On the other side, we suddenly receive much more information and can keep the technical knowledge in mind while creating our new work. Once you know how something was done, you can start developing this idea further, realize what is possible, and perform it on your own way.


Unrelated to this short write-up, my aim with these short essays is not to cover a topic in its whole, but rather to illustrate a short point of view and leave the rest to your imagination. So if you have any thoughts related to the posts, please leave them in the comment section!


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On the overestimated power of social media as a source of inspiration

A large amount of the newer generation of artist and people passionate about the arts in general often state social media as a great way to get inspired, study work, and learn more about an artist. While I do agree that this platform enables one to get introduced to a large proportion of people in a relatively short amount of time, it also comes with a variety major flaws. And in my opinion they even tend to outweigh the positive aspects of the medium.

But why am I so negative about social media as a source of inspiration? I tend to agree that it can be an effective way to find out about new and mostly contemporary artist. Let’s just focus now for the ease of writing, and to better complement my personal experiences, on photography. But this might as well be applied to any other art form existing. 

Social media plays an immensely important role in the so called “democratization of art“. Where established ways of how certain things used to be done are broken and artist are provided with more free and less elite ways of working. But this shall not be the topic of this short write up.

Rather, I want to impose the following question: Is social media really a good source of inspiration, or is it just a mere representation of the art presented in a very distracting and unfavorable environment (phone, computer, etc.)? The internet in general doesn’t provide anything more than, in my mind, one of the worst places imaginable to display art. Surely, you can get inspired to a certain extend by it, but I feel that most of the time you don’t achieve anything else, than to drown in the pool of opportunities constantly presented to you. More links, more websites, and then, to make matters worse, an email or text pops up on your screen. And the very split second it does come up, you’re distracted. And this flash of inspiration wasn’t more than that, a short glance at something you will forget about sooner than later. And now you’re left with a short spark of it, which is essentially what social media does. To supply you short sparks of adrenaline, and then you suddenly get addicted to it overall and fall for it. Surely, nearly everyone has at some point gone the bitter route of judging ones work by the amount of likes and comments received. Then to see it as some form of rating system for determining which photographs are good, and which seems absolutely insane.

Don’t you want to study bodies of work in the form they should be viewed in? Books and exhibitions are the best source for it. Seeing the artwork in real life at an exhibition can sometimes come as a revelation of some sort. Maybe you don’t live in an exciting city with lots of museum and fancy exhibitions, well no problem, get into books. Look at work in the form it should be viewed in, I cannot stress this enough. Your phone or laptop screen certainly isn’t. You will start to look at fewer images, less photographers in more time, and you will be rewarded with the revelation and the true meaning of a complete project or single image. There are no distractions and the work is laying right in front of you, to be discovered and studied. You don’t need to built a library of books you will never read or look at. Get a few, and look through them intently. Again and again, until you know every single part of it almost by heart. And then you can start looking through more and more, and therefore pave your way through the works and artists most interesting to you. It has come to a point where I refrain myself from looking at someone’s work on the internet, and rather, if I am persuaded that this will provide some interesting information, rather go for the book or something physical which is available. This does also support artist, publishers, and all other people involved a tiny bit to keep doing what they do. Art can really be a enduring passion and way of making a living, and one surely tends to overestimate the true amount of these very specific books that get sold.

This is the true essence of inspiration, not a short streak of it, but a deep knowledge and a ever present flow of inspiration. You will suddenly start to come across ideas and concepts, with all of that input in the back of your head. You have seen, studied, and understood what is out there, what can be done, and achieved. And you can start using this to your advantage, to produce the work you have always imagined.


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Why do we always have to seem busy?

Have you ever caught yourself posting an image on social media to showcase how busy you are? Especially with Instagram stories this becomes a common thread. A quick snap to boost your self esteem that you are doing something right now. But why do we feel the need to document and share these images at all? Is there any purpose in them?

This issue has its roots far deeper in the norms that society imposes onto us. We have to be working and a beneficial part of the society at all times. There simply seems to be no room left for being under the radar, because if you’re busy and working hard and nobody even sees or notices it, are you even busy at all? You may sense now the irony in this whole flawed way of thinking. In the end this all has to do with acquiring a notice of feeling superior to others, who seem to be less hard working people than you are. Of course this is assumption is wrong. Just because you don’t see that people are doing their everything, doesn’t mean that they don’t. I would take it even further to propose that the people, very generally speaking with no proof, who share and constantly stress how hard of a worker they are, do less or not more than the ones who do their work quietly. This though comes from thinking about all of the time and energy used by people bragging about their work ethics and comparing this to the quiet worker, who can direct these efforts to something that’s actually beneficial to him.

Are you now a bad person if you brag about your work ethics? Absolutely not, this is no the point I wanted to raise. Just maybe be reminded that this can lead to a misconception and that there is no need to constantly remind other people how hard you work, because don’t we all do that within our capacities and is this the only purpose of life? To be a hard worker? Isn’t it for example more important to be developing and working on yourself and how you’re treating others? Isn’t this really making you happy, or do you want to be part of a rat-race towards flawed ideals? Surely we all want to fulfill our potential. But is there only one right way to do it? Dedication, motivation and in the end hard work are very important indeed, but is constantly stressing how you personally are going about it beneficial for others and for whom you intended it to be? Or is one just trying to make oneself feel superior to all others by putting other people in a self imposed misery?

I hope you somehow enjoy these thoughts, they are mostly transcripts of things I have scribbled in my notebooks. 

Social Media and Internet Retreat: Measures and Effects

This is something I wrote over the course of the last weekend. I thought I might share it with you through the platform of this blog and talk you through what I have been changing (for some part also at least trying to) in the past months. Hope you enjoy it and maybe you can even relate to some of the issues discussed.


It all feels like yesterday, but it has been around 1.5 months ago that I decided to change the way I use social media and the internet generally in a more dramatic way. Before that I also tried to limit my usage, but sometimes it needs harder measures for certain things to succeed. I’ve read and heard about a few people that decided to go the route of unfollowing everyone on social media. I decided to give it a shot, among other measures that were implemented at the beginning and throughout the process that began earlier this year. And no, you don't start living in a cave all of a sudden, I promise!

Here is a short overview of what I did in summary:

  • Unfollowing everyone on Instagram
  • Sorting through YouTube subscriptions and bookmarking the subscriptions page and not the YouTube home page (no recommended videos there)
  • Delete Snapchat
  • Remove social media apps from the home screen (harder accessibility equals less app opens)
  • Unsubscribe from any unnecessary newsletters
  • Changed the way I reply to emails and messages, i.e. leaving less room for long discussion that could be solved in fewer messages
  • No personal Facebook account (since a couple of years now) 
  • Leaving the phone at home / switching it completely of for certain time periods / enabling the flight mode or setting the phone to silent mode
  • Disable notifications for certain apps
  • No TV (sold mine), no series, no YouTube binge watching (only very selective and careful selection of videos and on demand movies)
  • Dedicated time frames when the internet is disconnected

Again, it may seem dramatic at first and some people will also even be offended in some kind of way (by unfollowing them on social media). Some start to think you’re not interested in them and ultimately what it is they do and are up to anymore (all it takes is a quick explanation). Nevertheless, regarding catching up with everyone I have experienced quite the opposite. When you’re sending individual texts and images it all gets more intimate. They and you know that it's only between them and you and it isn't this public thing everyone can glance at. Also you start to meet people more often in person and you’re less distracted from and more involved into the conversation due to the lack of possibility. Leaving the phone at home, enabling flight mode or switching it off completely are different examples of possibilities. 

Besides all of this retreat, for example my actual Instagram content output rate even increased. In summary it all went towards an approach that is more about creating than consuming. When I open the Instagram app, I don't do it to consume but to create and publish things. I also found myself in a deeper state of concentration, less distracted and therefore more productive. My mind remains clearer and doesn’t feel so cluttered up.

A point I often hear when it comes to consuming content on social media is that it is necessary for the purpose of inspiration, finding out about new people and consuming good photography. All of which I now actually believe quite the opposite. Do you really want to consume art on a small screen, in an uncurated form with all of the other unrelated news and images popping up besides it, or wouldn’t you prefer to take the time and sit down with a photography book? In contrast to social media the book is fully curated, you see the images exactly how they are intended to be viewed and you have a distraction free environment. Doesn't this sound more fruitful? Don’t we all have a stack of unread and unstudied books waiting to be carefully read? Why use our time to look at a tiny screen of endless images? If you start taking this idea further you will start noticing that a lot of positive things we naturally associate as positive with social media aren't even that great in reality. Honestly I seldom was more inspired and the quality and thoughtfulness of what I do has never been better. 

Am I happier now? Yes.

But this is just the beginning of the journey, I am starting to realize in which ways I could expand this and therefore end up with a life more focussed on creation than consumption. I do still consume, but I try to be very mindful what and when to consume and not to consume for the pure sake of consumption. A few weeks ago I stumbled across the book “Deep Work“ by Cal Newport and it provided me with many more ideas to develop this further (highly recommended read), while still remaining somewhat accessible and up to date. The internet in the end provides the foundation of a lot of things I do.

All of this doesn't mean that the Internet, social media and so on are bad things per se. The way we treat it and consume often without a thought is the challenging part. All of these platforms are basically wanting us to spend more time on them, because they want to generate more ad revenue and we tend to get addicted quickly. It all provides instant satisfaction. That's often it. One moment of easy satisfaction and we want more of it and more intensely. Indeed, that very much sounds like doing drugs, because it functions among the same principles. At first it can be very strange to for example wait at the pedestrian light signal and not to pull out the phone to kill the next few seconds. Accept and appreciate the resulting short moments of boredom and you will start to discover a new world and won't stop yourself from entering a deeper concentrated state of mind. Fragmented attention has a very present effect on our ability to concentrate and to enter a deeper state of mind.

You will reward yourself by finding yourself in a more concentrated state of mind. Cal Newport coins it “deep work“, in his previously mentioned book, which stands in contrast to “shallow work“. Easily replaceable and mentally unchallenging tasks, often invaluable to your greater goal. Shallow work is necessary and not bad per se again, it's also very needed in our economy. Your mind only has a set mental strength each and every day to work in a deep state. It is exhausting and you need to recharge your batteries. Oftentimes I struggle with two things: never being able to shut my mind off after a day and also to always feel like having to work each and every day for extensive hours. I start to sense that I am able to better say that I have done my assigned work for the day, shut off the phone and enter a new and much needed disconnected state. Cal Newport suggests a shut down routine to check and finish tasks one last time and then to have a defined way to end your working day. Considering the second point, working less hours and achieving similar or better output is the goal. By eliminating unfruitful tasks and focussing on what really is relevant, you start to achieve more and better results in shorter time.

The moment you don't have an infinite feed you will start to feel relieved in a strange kind of way. You stop looking at other people’s life through this perfectly curated and polished image they try to convey on the internet. Anxiety, the feeling of missing out, comparing yourself to others and the worst but at the same time hardest to battle thing: feeling bad about your own life when there really is not a single reason. The list could go on forever. By unfollowing everyone all of these effects dramatically reduce and you are left with a happier and more dedicated life. You don't feel as inadequate about yourself and don't even let these things come to your mind, because you are simply not exposed to them anymore (or not on such a frequent basis).

Of course there are still many things to battle, to try out and and a lot of ground to cover. But we all have to start from somewhere and only from experimentation we find out what suits us best. There is a lot of theoretical advice out there, but it's most important to find a way that fits your daily needs and works for you. One that really can be adopted to your individual needs. Personally I am am able to perform and output better work, tackle the big tasks, read more and write every single day. A life focussed more on creation than consumption will equal a happier more dedicated life. Also remember that we’re capable of doing much more than we tend to believe. Our mind and brain has great unused capacities and gets refreshed not from simply doing nothing, expect while sleeping, but from changing what we do and giving it new and different tasks to work on.

Here is a random note related to all of this that I stumbled across recently, which was written around one year ago: In reality the most important moments will never find their way to social media. They will happen right in front of you and the only one that will remember these moments will be you. Those are the moments that are most meaningful. Those are the moments I care about. Don't miss them by looking at your phone, rather be there in the moment and look up to discover the true beauty that surrounds us all.


Support the blog

Please consider supporting this blog, my photography and also the YouTube channel by either getting my new book or some stickers through the wasteoffilm shop or by using my Amazon Affiliate links. ( US / UK / DE )