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insights into photography
10 Critical Assumptions That Can Stifle Your Artistic Goals
May 28, 2015Posted by on
Every single one of us holds assumptions. They are part of being human. We assume there won’t be too much traffic on the way home from work, or that there will be way too much. We assume it will be hard to find a partner, or that it will be exceedingly easy. We assume that we’ll be able to pull the details out of the sky, or we assume that the camera doesn’t have enough dynamic range.
Assumptions are cognitive shortcuts based on patterns.
Human beings are pattern-matchers. We find patterns everywhere we can, and then use them to take cognitive shortcuts. Broken windows don’t mean the neighborhood is rough. But see enough broken windows in rough neighborhoods and soon when you see one, your brain will be taking the cognitive shortcut and concluding that the neighborhood must be rough.
Assumptions aren’t necessarily a negative thing, however. For example, my dog, Mikey, always greets people who come to the door. If I am working, and Mikey eagerly jumps up and runs to the door, I’m not going to spend energy considering the many things his haste could mean. Instead, I’m going to follow the pattern and take the cognitive shortcut to conclude that someone must be at the door and I may need to go welcome them.
A critical assumption is different in that the shortcut it provides might sidestep a potentially important, or perhaps the only, path to some desired outcome.
For example, let’s say I’m loading all my camera gear in the car and I’m going out to photograph the local squirrel infestation. I’ve seen them running around for weeks, and I know all their favourite spots. When I get there, however, I find that the local pest control has ‘relocated’ the problem. Now I have all my gear in the car and nothing I have intended to photograph. The outcome I desired was artsy images of adorable squirrels. The critical assumption was that I have all the time in the world to create those squirly images, and that the infestation wasn’t a problem someone else was attempting to solve.
If I had identified that critical assumption, I would have taken different actions and I would have quite the conversation starter hanging, perfectly arranged, on the wall of my office.
Want to observe the critical assumptions in your own life? Wait for the next time you get caught in the bathroom with an empty roll of toilet paper. If you never assumed there’d be toilet paper available, you’d probably never be caught without it.
That example starts to go to an extreme though. Critical assumptions lend a hand to the everyday uncertainties of life. They’re not altogether avoidable. But, if you can identify them and dispel them, or at least prevent them from being equated to “Truth”, you’ll be opening up a lot of pathways to whatever it is you’re aiming for.
So although critical assumptions come in every size and just about every degree of consequence, and are usually invisible until it’s too late, I’d like to talk about some of the high-level critical assumptions that a lot of us might relate to. Not the ones being formed in your day to day, but the ones forming your day to day. The larger ones that take hold almost like they are personal values. Not the ones that keep you from getting to work on time, the ones that keep you from quitting your job.
Critical Assumption #1: I’ll be ready when I get there.
Critical Assumption#2: I’m not the kind of person who…
Critical Assumption #3: I can’t do anything until I get organized.
Critical Assumption #4: I’m not good enough.
I am teaching a class on Composition tonight, starting with Henri Cartier-Bresson as a guide, here are some of his pictures