Disregard Critics: Make More Art

Garden Grove, Los Angeles 2013

Garden Grove, Los Angeles 2013

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” ― Andy Warhol

As street photographers, I think we are all artists. We craft our version of reality from fragments from everyday life. We don’t just take photos– we make them.

In my art– I am quite insecure at times. I want to make great photographs– images that awe and inspire my audience. Whenever I upload an image that doesn’t get as many “favorites” or “likes” as other images I wonder to myself, “Perhaps that photograph wasn’t any good?”

I also worry about the negative criticism I get from my photographs. I am the type of person that I want to please everybody. But then again, I know if I try to please everybody– I will end up pleasing nobody (especially myself).

I just came back from a week in Singapore, and had an amazing time hanging out with my host Callan Tham (a member of the street photography collective, “5ive Foot Way“). With him, Adam Rahim, Dav Cheng, Gerald Chew, Aikbeng Chia, and many other photographers– we talked a lot about the philosophy of making images, and listening to critics.

Indianapolis, 2013

Indianapolis, 2013

One thing that Callan does which inspires me is that he constantly publishes his work in his “Nisshi” zines. Each “zine” (magazine) he publishes of his work — he has created something. He knows that not everybody will like it, but ultimately he wants to get the work out there. I have also noticed that with each issue, his images have been getting better and better.

Callan also told me something that resonated with me deeply: We can’t control whether people will like our images or not. When it comes down to it, whether people like our images or not isn’t based on some objective measure. Rather, they are a reflection on the viewer.

For example, let’s say your images are like ice cream. Some people like vanilla and some people like chocolate. If you make an image which is vanilla (and your viewer hates vanilla and only likes chocolate)– they’re going to hate your image. And no amount of convincing will make them suddenly like vanilla.

As in the words of Andy Warhol– don’t think too much when it comes to making art through your photography. We like to talk a lot about our ideas for projects and concepts– but don’t talk. Just do it. Just go out and shoot it, and figure out the edit later.

Also it isn’t within your power whether people like your shots or not. Sure you can make nicer compositions and stuff– but no matter how good your photos are, not 100% of the public will like your work (not everyone likes Henri Cartier-Bresson or Josef Koudelka, two of the great masters). And like what Andy Warhol said– while people judge your work, just keep making more art.

Whenever it comes for me to upload new work online– there is always a moment of hesitation. I don’t want to upload ‘bad’ work — images which I think are good (but others may not think are good).

Garden Grove, Los Angeles 2013

Garden Grove, Los Angeles 2013

Therefore I have been applying this new method which makes me feel a lot better (and helps me focus on my work): I ignore the number of “likes” and “favs” I get on my images.

Sure I love the little nicotine hit I get whenever I see the little pink stars and red hearts hovering over my photos on social media. But likes/favorites don’t tell me anything really about the images. Hypothetically if I took a photo of a rainbow, a cat, and my cappuccino I would get tons more likes/favorites than any of my street photos.

What I have been doing instead is sharing my images privately with photographers I respect and trust, and getting their feedback whether they think the shots are good or not. I then take their feedback into account, judge their thoughts against my own personal thoughts– then make a conscious decision whether I like the shot or not. I think this method allows us to get enough critical feedback on our images, while also aiming to please ourselves.

So ultimately you want to ask yourself the question: Who do you aim to please in your photography? Do you aim to please yourself or your audience? My take is that you should first aim to please yourself through your photography, then let others decide whether they like it or not. And you will build a small but dedicated following of people who appreciate and like your images. And while the others criticize your work or disregard it– just keep going forth and making more art.

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  • Will

    This post reminded me of an amazing commencement speech by Neil Gaiman called “Make Good Art.” Well worth the 20 minutes!

  • Thomas Nielsen

    Reminds me of one of my (many) favourite quotes, one that I have as a guiding rule when i make music, write text or make photographs. It’s from Cyril Connolly.

    “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Nice one Thomas will remember that one!

  • Jane Martin

    extremely well done. It is satisfaction to come across your perform
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  • Frank

    If you want critique on your images, try to get critique from specialists in the artworld. 100 likes from 150 viewers means nothing, if you know they don’t know what they’re talking about. That is how kitch is created. If at least one good artist really likes and appreciates your work, then you are safe.

  • robert

    I always say “the amount of people that like your work means nothing…after all…my grandma thinks that “Dogs playing poker” on velvet is art….”

  • Nik

    I’d like to share my street work with a photographer community for feedbacks and discussion, probably more constructive than “likes” .

  • Jeremy Nix

    Really great post Eric. Love the sentiment. I’ve seen your critics in the comment sections of many of your posts. Not just posts on this blog, but posts from other photography sites as well. You seem to have a dedicated group of haters that follows you around online and slanders your name whenever possible. It is as if they have a personal agenda against you. I believe it is because of your success.

    I like criticism of my work, but I have only run into real honest criticism in my photography classes. Usually online I only get positive comments or none at all, which I’m sure means that my photography isn’t polarizing enough, or good enough, or whatever else it needs to be to get the attention I’d like to have. I struggle constantly with the thought that my work isn’t good enough, but I keep working anyway. What else is there?

    As always, I appreciate what you contribute to photography. I admire your success, and the way you think about photography as well as the work you put out there for all of us to look at. I consider you one of my photography teachers, even though we have never met. I love the lessons you put out.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Aww thanks so much for the love Jeremy, it means so much to me :) keep rocking the streets brother!

  • Paetroz

    Shoot because you love it. Not because you want to impress. Unless you are a commercial photographer you shouldn’t worry about what others think, even then some pro shooters don’t give a damn about pleasing the masses and shoot what they like knowing that there is an audience for it that will appreciate what they do.

    So love the process, share your work but try to have humility and no expectations of grandeur.

    As for Facebook and it’s “Likes” crap, forget about it, it’s pointless and a crutch for your ego. Besides it is an artificial measure which can be manipulated quite easily.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Right on!

  • fred

    I go by “you dont have to like it, you just have to understand it”. That goes to say the critic or viewer has to trust that the artist is not having them on. In the Warhol vein of art on demand check out Steven Shore and his POD book projects and even his ‘book of books’ if your pockets are deep enough. They are pure ‘just do it’ photo art objects.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim


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  • james

    Great article as usual Eric. The photograph of the bikers looking at the menu is really comin on to something. Very great capture!

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