"Use it or loose it", or "creative abstinence"? (and the elusive inspiration element)
In every artistic discipline worthy of mention, there is one inevitable factor that always creeps into every discussion: you need to practice! Every hopeful artist knows you've got to spend unlimited hours "in the shed", practicing your chops and paying your dues, right?
I personally experienced this conception as a musician, and a guitar player in particular. In this world, you just know you've got to practice harder and longer than the next guy, if you want to become something better than the other 200 million guitar players out there. Well, not so fast.
I was totally blown away when I first read interviews of two famous guitar players I used to idolize as a young player, the impossibly awesome Alan Holdsworth and the astonishingly brilliant Larry Carlton, where they stated that they don't really practice that much. In fact they say this was normal with them; sure, they spent a significant period of time and effort initially, in order to develop their technique, but, since developing their style, there were extended periods of time they didn't even "practice" at all. Instead they preferred to engage in other creative activities, and, when they got their hands on their instruments, what they did was play music! Actually, what Larry said in an interview was on the lines of "when I stop playing for a while, my technique is somewhat diminished, but I then find my creativity boosted".
This is pretty fascinating. Indeed, I was thinking how this could be applied to our artistic photographic pursuits.
These days, we are heading towards the celebration of Orthodox Easter, and, here in Greece, many religious (and even not so religious) people, use to go through a period of fasting, abstaining from certain foods and practices. It has actually been proven that fasting once every few weeks, can potentially improve overall health considerably. As it is common knowledge that an excess of anything can be harmful.
The question then becomes, would periods of "creative abstinence" be used to help on our photographic progress?
First of all, let's get rid of a common myth: "practice makes perfect". No, it really doesn't, and there are studies to prove it. Having a camera with you and shooting hundreds of pictures every day, will not make you a better photographer. The good news: if you're just starting out, you may become an excellent photographer in a matter of months. Or never. Sorry, life is a bitch like that. There are numerous factors involved in how good you become at anything, and the old saying that you have to "have it", will eternally be relevant.
We are in an era where, probably, more photographs are made every new year than several previous decades of Photography. "Spray and pray" photography is almost the norm. Many photographers feel like they have to make as many photos as possible, even if they are the most trivial, uninteresting frames imaginable.
Then there is all that time wasted in over post processing. People spend hours in Photoshop trying to make, frankly boring, pictures into works of art. And then post them on Facebook, in a resolution 1/10th of the original, and have them viewed in computer monitors with horrid color settings.
The real danger here is, getting burned and frustrated. And also habitually falling into old habits. As the best music teachers will tell you, if all you do is practice scales, all you'll have to play in a gig will be scales. Instead; play music, play with others and experiment. Now transfer the same idea to Photography. The exact opposite problem appears when one is overreaching in their photographic endeavors. In other words, trying to get involved with a wide variety of styles, effectively not focusing anywhere in particular.
All the above reasoning is why I believe that, planning some time off, where you leave the camera on the shelf, could be very helpful; especially if one recognizes the psychological symptoms I described. Such time can be spend very productively in other creative activities, but, the main reason is to achieve what is known in athletic training cycles as "strategic deconditioning". Yes, believe it or not, top athletes often use to reduce or completely stop training for a given period, let go of their diet and generally let go. It is a proven method of effectively priming the body to go into the next designed period of training, while avoiding both stagnation and possible injuries.
When the time comes that you actually feel bored with your Photography, then it's probably the best chance to go into such a period. No needs for worry that you'll actually lose anything. What will most possibly happen is, such a calming and virtually "therapeutic" period, is when inspiration strikes and most new ideas reveal themselves.
It has been the curse of our age that we need to evaluate everything in a measurable way. That we have to set goals and assign first, second and third place prices to every human practice imaginable. I say, wake up! Art is not sports. On your deathbed, will you be concerned with how many people thought you were No1 (or whatever number) in Photography, or how much you actually enjoyed it? Because if it's the former, I sincerely feel sorry for you. In the spirit of the famous meme "stay calm, and enjoy Photography".