Feedback and People-pleasing

Something I (and I’m sure many others) have struggled with is caring too much what other people think. It can be difficult to find a balance because, on one hand, humans are social animals and much of the things we do in life are affected by other people’s opinions: getting a job, making friends, getting people to buy things that we’re selling, etc. On the other hand, if we take others’ opinions too much into account, we run the risk of allowing ourselves to be used/manipulated, acting in a fake/inauthentic way, or neglecting our own needs and desires.

I know that everyone has some social-interaction needs, but there are definitely variations in the frequency and amount needed between individuals. Being more of an extroverted-type of person, I feel a strong need to have an active social life, and my mental health suffers if I can’t have it, making me jealous of my friends who can feel perfectly content living alone and seeing friends once or twice a month. I value my alone time too, but would much rather be around people the majority of the time (assuming I like those people). Unfortunately, my current lifestyle (moving a lot) often puts me in places where I need to restart my social-life from scratch.

In the past, because of my social-interaction needs (and maybe feelings of insecurity), I used to have a tendency to be a bit of a ‘people-pleaser’ because I wanted everyone to like me, without considering if I liked those people or not. Fortunately, I managed to overcome this tendency in my 20s, though at times I definitely strayed into the opposite extreme – being ‘too authentic’ to the point of being rude. I feel like I’ve managed to reach a good balance in this now. However, when it comes to my photography, I have not reached any such balance.

Art is supposed to be a form of self-expression, but in many cases we only express what we feel other people will like or relate to. Of course, this effect is magnified on social media, where people’s response to your work is quantified in likes, comments, and followers. This makes it feel more like a popularity contest than a channel for self-expression. I’ve already written at length about social media, so I won’t get into it too much in this post.

I’m constantly torn between taking photos however I want just because I feel like it and taking photos that ‘follow the rules’ and would be considered by others to be good photos. I guess this isn’t really a question of taking the photos, but rather choosing whether I should share the photos or not. If there is no intention to share the photos, then the whole question becomes meaningless. Why would you care about rules or anything like that if you’re the only one who will see the work?

However, our judgement of our photos may be clouded by our emotional attachment toward them. If this is the case, it may be helpful to get feedback from others. However, I have found that if I show my photos to others, different people will often select completely different photos as their favorites, and some feedback may completely miss the point.

I recently started using ARS Beta because it seemed like it could be a useful way to receive feedback (forcing people to look at one photo at a time and provide feedback), but I’ve found it to be largely the same as other forms of social media – shallow feedback, with much of the feedback rigidly clinging to conventional rules of photography, leaving little room for exploration or creativity. For example, I uploaded a photo that I thought looked cool – a blurry, underexposed, slow shutter-speed photo of some people walking on a path at night. Some positive feedback said “nice” or “very creative”, but some negative feedback said “blurry” or “underexposed”, as if they think I would have uploaded that photo thinking it was clear and well-exposed. Neither the positive nor negative feedback was useful.

Part of the problem with receiving feedback from strangers is that we don’t know who they are or what sort of photos they take. If I don’t respect the person and/or appreciate their photos, why should I be influenced by their feedback?

I’m still a bit at a loss on how to find balance in this – it seems that sharing with others is a good way to maintain motivation and build connections, but at the same time, listening to others’ opinions and seeing popular trends may stifle creativity. Most of the photographers who have become known as ‘great’ achieved that by doing their own thing, not by following the trends or always playing by the rules. However, at the same time, even using ‘great’ photographers as role-models is problematic because it is creating the standard of popularity being the measure of a great photographer. The only reasonable way forward that I can think of is to continue sharing with others for the motivation and connection, while somehow managing to disregard popularity and others’ opinions, which is much easier for some people than others. Unfortunately, it does not come easily to me.

Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss this further with me.

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