Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.
M. C. Escher
1 – Introduction
In the previous essay we looked at the characteristics shared by creative people. In this essay we are going to look at ways of generating creativity.
You may ask ‘why do I need to be more creative? The reason is simple. At a time when nearly everyone has a camera and access to software to fine tune their photographs, simply creating good photographs is no longer enough to stand out amongst the multitude of photographers that compete for attention. Having great gear is nice but not enough because other photographers can purchase the same gear and learn to use it. Having great software is not enough because other photographers can purchase the same software and learn to use it. Having access to great subject matter or locations is not enough because other photographers can have access to the same subject matter and locations.
So what can truly make us truly unique? When everyone has access to the same tools and knowledge, being unique no longer comes from using these tools and knowledge. Being unique, different or original, in one word standing out, comes from using these tools and this knowledge in a creative manner. In a day when hardware, software and subject matter are readily available and accessible, it is our creativity that becomes our ‘success edge’ so to speak.
Mono Lake Dusk
2 – From ideas to concrete creativity
In practice, what I wrote in section 1 is academic. To make it useful we need to know how to generate creative ideas and use them concretely and productively. So, how do you find creative ideas for your next photography shoot or for your next photography project? How do you get ‘unstuck’ if you find yourself without creative ideas about what to do next? What do you do if you find you yourself in a ‘creative rut,’ doing the same thing over and over again and repeating yourself instead of creating new work?
The word ‘Creativity’ comes from the same root as the word ‘creation.’ Both describe the urgent need to bring something new into being. Creativity is generated by being exposed to new ideas, by seeing new things and by trying new thing ourselves. Here are some tips:
- Be a kid
It is said that children are most creative and that as we get older we lose this creativity. This is why I titled this essay ‘Creativity remembered’. The goal in a way is to return to the creativity-laden state that was ours when we were kids. Of course we are adults now, and physically going back in time is not an option, but if we are able to recover some of the qualities of times past, we may, in turn, experience an heightened state of creativity again.
One of the reasons children are more creative is because, unlike adults, children do not place what they see into specific categories. When they see something, instead of categorizing it they keep an open mind to put it simply. By doing so they leave the door open to a multitude of possible uses. For example, when asked to give as many possible uses for a given object, say an empty tin can, this faculty allows them to see a multiplicity of possibilities. Adults, when asked the same question, see far fewer possibilities. Not rejecting possibilities a-priori opens the door to a wide range of creative ideas.
- Acquire new camera gear or software
New equipment, be it gear or software, is inspirational. It makes you want to use it and gives you new ideas about what to do with it. I find acquiring new gear and software to be inspiring not just when in photography but in many other activities. For example, I just purchased a new Opinel trimming saw, and it made me want to trim several Palo Verde trees in our backyard. I was inspired, and looking at the results makes me believe that I did a better and more artistic job than with the generic saw I used before.
- Learn new techniques
Similarly, learning new techniques can provide a creativity boost by opening new possibilities, allowing us to do things we could not do before, or do things we did previously better or differently.
- Invite the unexpected
I have a student who in every bookstores he goes to, buys the magazine located at the bottom left of the magazine rack, whatever that magazine might be. Myself, I enjoy intentionally getting lost in an unknown city, or even a known city, by going to areas I am not familiar with. Getting lost means I go to areas unintentionally rather than purposefully. I believe that by not making conscious decisions about where to go I visit areas I would not see otherwise. I visit areas where I am not expected to go instead of visiting areas that that everyone sees. I don’t see what I am ‘supposed’ to see in new city and I enjoy seeing the look of surprise on people’s faces when they ask me ‘did you see this’ mentioning a well known location, and hearing me say ‘I don’t think so. Where is it again?”
- Photograph places you have not visited before
Visiting new places offers the opportunity of experiencing something we are not familiar with. We may experience surprise, or even shock, and this experience may in turn generate new ideas, or even bring with it a new vision.
- Photograph or re-photograph favorite places you visited before
Seeing familiar places at a different time of the day or year, or after a long time, is often a source of inspiration and creativity. Sometimes seeing new places with fresh eyes can also bring in a new vision of a familiar place.
- Attend a workshop or seminar taught by an artist whose work and approach you like
Workshops and seminars offer an immersive learning opportunity. Instead of doing photography occasionally, say a couple hours a day, or once a week, you focus on photography all day long for 5 days to a week. Workshops are also an opportunity to meet other photographers, exchange views and opinions, see the work other photographers are doing, have your work reviewed and catch up with the latest gear and techniques.
Some participants compare the workshop experience to that of drinking from a fire hose, to use a popular expression, while others return home with a single new idea, or with the answer to a troublesome question. Whatever the case might be, workshops offer are an open door to new ideas and new ways of practicing photography.
Arch and Sky, Eastern Sierra Nevada
- Visit an art gallery or museum
Now that we have the internet it is easy to see just about any work of art on a computer screen. However, seeing a work of art in person and on a screen are two vastly different experiences. Seeing an entire show or exhibit in person is also different from seeing artwork on the web.
When visiting a show in a gallery or museum, we may not like everything displayed in the show. We may see things we did not expect to see. This experience offers the opportunity to expand our knowledge and appreciation of art. Often, there is as much to learn from finding out what we don’t like as there is from finding out what we like. Even more important is finding out why we like, or dislike, a specific work of art, artist or movement.
- Read books by or about other artists to learn how artists find creative urge
Learning how other artists live and create can bring ideas about your own creative process and living environment. I have a collection of books by and about artists that I find very inspiring. Seeing how other artists live and create generates ideas about how I can make my creative life richer.
Learning how other artists find creative ideas and vision provides a pathway to the discovery of new ideas for yourself. You can learn this by reading books about artists, reading artists biographies and artist statements. Being knowledgeable about the life of specific artists is different from being knowledgeable about the work they created. Both are inspiring in different ways. Knowledge of the work they create provides inspiration about the movement they belonged to, their personal style, the techniques and tools they used and the subject matter or locations they represented.
On the other hand, learning about their life provides inspiration about the type of life they enjoye and about the other activities they engage in besides creating art. Do they live in a city or in a rural environment? Are they social butterflies or hermits? Do they travel frequently or do they prefer living a sedentary life? What hobbies and activities do they practice in addition to their art? Who are their friends and acquaintances? What does their home look like? What type of decor do they favor? This, and countess other aspects of their existence, can provide inspiration for living your own life.
- Have fun
Great ideas come when the mind is relaxed and open to inspiration. A lot of creative work is done in a relaxed atmosphere, with fun being part of the ‘creative recipe’ so to speak.
- Set deadlines
Without deadlines nothing would get done. This is because deadlines force you into action. They say, loud and clear, ‘you must deliver or you will fail to reach your goal.’
Having a deadline for the completion of a specific project means that your attention and energy are focused on this specific project. While there is no absolute guarantee that having a deadline will generate creativity, having one will not prevent you from being creative either. In fact, deadlines usually generate new ideas because you have to come up with solutions to specific problems. if you focus on finding a solution that you have not heard of or used before, chances are that you will come up with something unique and new, something creative.
- Keep a journal of creative ideas
Ideas come and go. When I have a new idea I often believe that I will not forget it. However experience has taught me otherwise because I do forget ideas. Something might come up that takes my attention in a totally different direction, and when I am done I cannot remember exactly what it is that I was thinking of. To prevent losing my ideas, I write them down as soon as possible, immediately if possible. I try to use a notebook that I keep for this purpose, but if it is unavailable for whatever reason I will use whatever I find. What is important is the idea, not what it is written on. I can easily rewrite it better later on, but if I forget it I may never think of it again.
- Practice and experiment with a diversity of medium
Creativity can be fueled by experimenting with new mediums. Drawing, painting, music, dance, pottery, woodworking, writing (to name a few) are all creative artistic endeavors that can provide inspiration and creative ideas that you may be able to use in your photography.
- Lead by example: be an inspiration to others
Being creative is also being inspirational to others. Just like we are inspired by the work and the life of creative people, we become inspiring to others ourselves through the work we create and the life we live.
be inspired by both their artistic and the technical aspects, not just one or the other. B
Mision and Ladder, New Mexico
3 – Inspiration is a way of being, not an occasional activity
Just like Art is a lifestyle and not just an isolated activity, being creative is a way of being, not an occasional activity. Don’t just be creative on specific occasions. Live a creative life, a life in which inviting creativity and inspiration is ‘built in’ so to speak. Here are some tips:
- Collect and display art
- Make the place where you live yours so that it reflects your taste instead of being ‘generic’
- Make it a place you want to spent time in. Make it comfortable and inviting.
- Make it a place where you can reflect on your work, on what you have done and what you will do next.
- Bring art in the other aspects of your life.
- Food, furniture, activities, reading, socializing, etc. all offer opportunities for creativity and inspiration.
- They are creative outlets because they offer opportunities to exercise your creativity.
- They are inspirational because in the act of creating and later in the enjoyment of your creation lies the potential for finding new inspiration.
4 – Skill enhancement exercises (SEE)
The SEE for this essay are simple: practice some or all of the suggestions in Section 2.
5 – Conclusion
Generating creativity brings inspiration. Creativity and inspiration are closely related. I’m not sure that I can tell the two apart really. What I do know is that generating creative ideas results in feeling inspired.
This second essay on creativity concludes my presentation on this topic in the context of this series. The next essay is titled In Praise of Amateurs and explores the differences between amateur and professional photographers. It will be published on this site in October.
6 – About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops and offer DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available in eBook format on my website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html
You can find more information about my work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on my website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com . You will receive 40 free eBooks immediately after subscribing.
I welcome your comments on this essay as well as on my other essays. You can reach me directly by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.