Does consistency lead to success?
In June of 2004, Arno Rafael Minkkinen stepped up to the microphone at the New England School of Photography to deliver the commencement speech.
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory
Minkkinen was born in Helsinki, Finland. In the center of the city there was a large bus station and he began his speech by describing it to the students.
“Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city,” Minkkinen said. “At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. Each bus takes the same route out of the city for at least a kilometer, stopping at bus stop intervals along the way.”
He continued, “Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer. Meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity. Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.”
“You take those three years of work to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on. Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.”
“So you hop off the bus, grab a cab—because life is short—and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.”
“This time,” he said, “you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane. You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment. Haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8x10s of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?”
“So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.”
“Stay on the Bus”
Minkkinen paused. He looked out at the students and asked, “What to do?”
“It’s simple,” he said. “Stay on the bus. Stay on the f**king bus. Because if you do, in time, you will begin to see a difference.”
“The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line, but only for a while—maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north. Bus 19 southwest. For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail one another, but soon they split off as well. Irving Penn is headed elsewhere.”
“It’s the separation that makes all the difference,” Minkkinen said. “And once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire—that’s why you chose that platform after all—it’s time to look for your breakthrough. Suddenly your work starts to get noticed. Now you are working more on your own, making more of the difference between your work and what influenced it. Your vision takes off. And as the years mount up and your work begins to pile up, it won’t be long before the critics become very intrigued, not just by what separates your work from a Sally Mann or a Ralph Gibson, but by what you did when you first got started!”
“You regain the whole bus route in fact. The vintage prints made twenty years ago are suddenly re-evaluated and, for what it is worth, start selling at a premium. At the end of the line—where the bus comes to rest and the driver can get out for a smoke or, better yet, a cup of coffee—that’s when the work is done. It could be the end of your career as an artist or the end of your life for that matter, but your total output is now all there before you, the early (so-called) imitations, the breakthroughs, the peaks and valleys, the closing masterpieces, all with the stamp of your unique vision.”
“Why? Because you stayed on the bus.
This story came from a blog post by James Clear http://jamesclear.com/stay-on-the-bus
I think of everything that I do whether it be my routine in the morning to leave for work and I know I look better if I follow the discipline of getting ready. If I put clothes out the night before it is more conducive to the day going forward.
When I deliver workshops, keeping them simple with not too many theories and being engaging as possible is my own way of “staying on the bus…”.
Think hard about your own life as to how many times you have stayed on the bus and the times where you got off, and with hindsight possibly should have stayed on.
Please do share your stories as to how you keep yourself on the bus route that is right for you.
For a workshop on “Staying on the bus…” please contact firstname.lastname@example.org