I wonder if all artists (i.e. anyone who creates - we'll leave the discussion of my definition of an artist for another day) reach the point in their work where they question what the heck they are doing... and why they are doing it.
My hunch is the answer to why in the end must boil down to some variation of personal satisfaction. Ultimately the answer must be "it brings me joy" or perhaps "I can't NOT do it." Otherwise certainly the critics and the fact that for most humans art remains in the "want" not "need" category would drive anyone to eventually hang up the smock or put down the camera. To paraphrase Ted Forbes - nobody is interested in seeing your photographs.
But the what... well the answer to that one is perhaps a bit more elusive. No matter where you are on your artistic journey I imagine this question is familiar. What do I want to create? What do I want to say, express or inspire with my creations? What can I make/do that is meaningful?
I'm not sure I have a clear answer for my own work yet and I must admit that bothers me. But I am starting to believe that the answer will come not from thinking but rather from doing. Just doing the work. Creating. Often. Repeatedly. Stacking up the experiments and mistakes and pushing through towards making work that matters.
I recently discovered this speech by Arno Rafael Minkkinen referred to it as the Helsinki Bus Station Theory... and found it to be an inspiring support for my own thoughts. If you haven't read it before, here's the link for you.
My take from Minkkinen's message is keep on doing the work. Keep on creating. Keep being an artist. Do it for yourself first, because it brings you joy and out of this joy, out of your passion the what will emerge. The work that matters will emerge. Your voice will become clear, your artistic expression will take shape and in time you might discover that what you create not only fulfills you but inspires others and makes a difference.
Rest if you need to. Take a sabbatical to recharge your energy when you must, but whatever you do... don't stop doing the work.
My own search for the answer to what propelled me to make the journey to France last spring and join Karen Hutton's THE ARTIST'S VOICE photography retreat. She is offering this retreat again in the Fall of 2016. If you are curious you can find out more here.
OTHERS WHO MAY HAVE SAID THIS BETTER:
In the past few weeks since I've been preparing this post, I've been fed or rather "discovered" (if you prefer to think the universe works in synchronistic ways) similar posts/articles/commentaries by at least three other people who have far larger followings than I do. So it wouldn't surprise me in the least if you have already had exposure to their take on the same issue. However, just in case you missed them here are a few links you might enjoy:
CHANGE THE WORLD: 12 Ways To Make Work Meaningful - No Matter What You Do - Marie Forleo
NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY - Ted Forbes, The Art of Photography
VISION IS BETTER, Ep 54 - What if Nobody Cares About Our Photography - David DuChemin