Quote Originally Posted by stradibarrius View Post
Like so many things that are a combination of skills, you initially struggle with the technical aspect of the art form.
...
I hope that I am about to make that next step in my effort to create photographs that I truly like...the step where I am able to concentrate on the end results and not my gear.
Since art cannot exist in a vacuum I believe the proponent and even the mature artist should carefully consider the critique of peers and people he respects. I'm not talking about mentors here as I believe the OP started the discussion refering to a level beyond formal education, even though mature artists do consider other artists as mentors, too.
Someone in this thread mentioned the "Equivalents" of Steiglitz. This series was Steiglitz's reaction to a critique that he was capable of producing strong "people" photos only. So for the next several years he was the first to introduce abastract art in the photography domain by means of photographing clouds. But, he did not just turn his camera to the sky and started clicking. He was worried that the orthochromatic emulsions he used didn't reproduce exactly his vision (that's the technical part) and also that he wanted the poetic nature of the pictures to come through so that Bloch would exclaim "This is music!" (that's the artistic part).

So, I believe personal progress except tools mastery is also a product of the artist's reaction to sincere critique of his/her work. And by this I do not mean the comments below photos that show up on popular photo sites.
One should pick his critics as carefully as his photographs.