July 28, 2012

If You Follow My Advice, You Wouldn’t Follow My Advice!

I often tell people not to follow other people’s advice. However, if you follow this advice then you wouldn’t follow my advice…which would mean that you actually should follow my advice. What a conundrum!

Everyone loves to give advice; we all know how others should live their lives even better than we know how to live our own, and it’s no different with our art. Everyone wants to tell us how we should process our images and how we should best achieve success. The advice givers are good people, who are well intentioned and who have had some wonderful life experiences, so why shouldn’t you follow their advice?

Because their vision is different from your vision and their definition of success may be different than yours. Can you imagine what might happen if I was inclined to give you lots of advice and you were inclined to follow it? One day you might wake up to the realization that your images bore a striking resemblance to mine and that you had met every one of the goals that I had set for myself! It’s not that my advice is bad, it simply may not be right for you.

Over the years I’ve come to learn that the only opinion that really matters is your own. Let me illustrate with two examples of some well-intentioned advice that I’ve received:

Never Center the Image!

A few years back my friend and mentor saw my latest image entitled The Angel Gabriel and almost yelled “Never center the image!” I was frequently presenting her with centered images (see above) and she constantly told me that I was breaking one of the rules of photography. I respected her position and experience but the advice just didn’t  feel right to me. However since she was the teacher and I the student, I reluctantly re-cropped the image as she had advised… and I just hated it! It literally made me ill to look at it and at that moment I realized that this was my image and my vision and no one could tell me how it should look. It wasn’t that her experience wasn’t good, but it came from her vision and it wasn’t right for me.

It is critically important that you find your own vision and once you do, you’ll find less and less of a need to ask others for advice about your work.

Large Prints, Small Editions:

I have a friend who is attempting to earn his living from his photography. He has chosen to offer large prints and very small editions (as low as 12). He believes this will maximize his profits and thinks my open editions and lower prices is a bad idea. He has frequently tried to convince me that I am making a mistake and that I should follow his example.  

The problem with his advice is that he and I have different definitions of success and therefore different goals. I am not trying to earn a living from my art, I wouldn’t be happy in the Gallery environment and I couldn’t stand the thought of printing only 12 images and then never any more! This formula would not work for me, even though it may work for him.

It is so important that you define success for yourself. What do you want from your art? What will bring lasting satisfaction? In five years, what would you like to accomplish with your art? Only once you know the answer to these questions, can you set your own course with confidence.


So listen to others and consider their ideas, but do not follow someone’s advice simply because they have more experience than you, create beautiful images or are  successful.  When it comes to your vision and what you want from your art, nobody is better qualified than you to make those decisions.  

There is tremendous confidence and strength that comes from finding your own vision and knowing what you want from your art. Life becomes so much easier, so much simplier and so much quieter. 

14 thoughts on “If You Follow My Advice, You Wouldn’t Follow My Advice!

  1. Excellent Cole…

    I have come to the same conclussions. The advice given by others, no matter how well intentioned, is just that… advice given by others. Or, as I am fond of saying, “that’s ONE persons opinion”.

    Self discovery comes from listening to yourself and following your own advised directions. No one, but yourself, can fully understand your intention.

    That’s just MY opinion and to quote Dennis Miller… I could be wrong.

  2. That sounds like the story of the Greek politician who was telling his American counterpart: “All Greeks are liers and that’s the truth”.

    Like art, all communication is subjective anyway. Usually advice is accepted or ignored depending on how an outcome will affect the recipient. More wars and bad friendships have come out of well meaning advice than any religious argument, so my advice is not to give advice in the first place. And anyone else reading this would be advised to do the same.

  3. Hello,
    thank you very much for this interesting text! I think your point is very important and I completely agree with you.
    In general I do not like advise. I appreciate people telling me what works for them, what they like or even what the you would do if they were me. I am also interested to learn the reasons for these opinions. However, I am very sensitive to factual statements about things of taste or interpretation.

  4. Hi Cole – Another thought-provoking post. This is fantastic! It is rare to hear something as honest and against the grain as what you have said here. Thank you for sharing real thoughts with us. I know I appreciate it! 🙂

  5. I’m with you, Cole! I will now shoot all of my images square and centered!;-)
    I remember being at a gallery show, and standing behind two men, a father and son, both talking about a particular photograph on the wall. The father excitedly said: “This is by far the best image in the show”. The son said: “It’s technically good, but otherwise, there’s nothing good about it”. The father saw something that the son didn’t, and they each felt strongly that they were right and the other was wrong. Following your own vision is the only way, otherwise you are making images for someone else.

  6. Learning and teaching. Nice view Cole! My opinion is that there is no danger at all: Teaching is not always so succesful and learning rarely is so perfect :-))

  7. Hi Cole,

    advice and guidance from my mentor use to be very important to me. Still are in some kind of way, but your point of view is also so very right and your post/words give me lots of strength to continue my own path….

    Thank you very much for this!

  8. Hi Cole,

    The best advice I was ever given was by a teacher of mine back in the 1960’s. It’s the one bit of advice which I have always held onto. He said…

    “Never listen to advice which starts with the words should do, have to, must do or can’t do. That is not advice but someone demanding that you do things their way. Nothing great ever came out of doing things the same way as everyone else.”

    I think it’s difficult to follow a different path, especially if you’re trying to make some money by creating something which appeals to the public. That still doesn’t mean creativity has to follow the rules, after all, as any study of the history of art will show what are now rules were once a diversion from the rules…if that makes sense! With so much creativity about one needs to break out to stand out.

    Best wishes,

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