If I could say that there is any one major key to creativity, it can be summed up in the word DO. You have to do something, do anything, do it now, do it often to be a creative. I think a large percentage of us feel like we aren’t creative. Heck, despite being a creative professional (allegedly!), I often worry that maybe just maybe I am not really all that creative.
That’s garbage. Humans are by their very nature creative, and we all have it within us to create something amazing. We just have to do. The problem is that society in general has started to lose respect for the creative arts, and our education system teaches us in a way that is counter-productive to fostering creativity. Creativity is not something quantifiable, and our methods of education hate that. Our system wants 1+1 to equal 2. Creativity wants to know what 1+1+a green truck equals.
Most people who know me know that I primarily shoot social documentary type work as it is my passion. Just to be different I’m going to randomly post some of my studio work into this post, like here!
I’ll start talking about the more academic side of creativity in a second, but before I do if I could give you any one piece of advice on becoming more productive it would be to close your internet browser, turn around and go do something. If you’re a photographer go make pictures, a painter paint, a musician make music. We have a tendency to sit behind our computers for hours on end either looking at new gear or reading about how to be better at whatever it is we do. The truth is we only get better at these things by doing them over and over and failing and failing until we finally hit something that feels right. So go do something! Chase Jarvis has an excellent post here about creating in today’s world:
It essentially boils down to this formula: Make something, put it out there, and then do whatever kind of work (flip burgers, sweep floors, whatever), in order to sustain yourself and your ability to make your art. His main point being that prior to the internet if you were a creative you needed someone else’s permission to do your art. A magazine publisher, museum curator, gallery owner, record label, whatever. In today’s world the only permission you need is your own, and you can publish yourself to billions of people if you choose to, so go make stuff, put it out there, and find a way to sustain it!
Still here? Ok, lots of people smarter than me have done a lot of research on what goes into creativity. There are two main concepts that I will talk about here, the creative process and flow. But first another randomly inserted picture!
The process that people generally go through was first presented by Graham Wallas way back in 1926. Graham said that we go through stages, and that those stages are: preparation, incubation, intimation, illumination, and verification. Preparation is the stage where we are focusing all of our energies on our problem, and are gathering as much information as possible. You read, watch, study, talk to people, and basically do everything you can to get to know your problem as thoroughly as possible. At some point we then either become too tired, frustrated, or whatever to continue and we take a break. Trick is, our brain isn’t taking a break because that 8 pounds of gray matter between your ears is using the subconscious to continue to mull over your problem. This is known as incubation. Incubation is a stage we don’t like because we feel like we aren’t doing anything, but it’s a stage that’s necessary as it is the time our mind can truly work some magic. Intimation is where we start to get a feeling that the solution is coming. You know this one. It’s where your body starts to tingle a bit and you feel like the answer is there, but you just can’t quite get it. But you know it’s there. Then we have illumination, which is also known as the “A-HA!” moment. This is when our solution magically pops into our head and we feel like we just conquered the world. Finally verification is where we put our solution into action and prove that it does do whatever it is we thought it would, in other words that 1+1+a green truck = a Hawaiian pizza. Since Graham put this out there, several academic types have removed the intimation and/or verification stages, but you get the general idea. Get as much information as possible, focus, take a break, and A-HA! Of course it isn’t always that simple. Sometimes it takes an enormous amount of time to get our idea, but it’s always worth it in the end. How about another picture?
So what about when we hit a creative rut? Those times when no matter how much studying we do, no matter the amount of incubation, we still feel a lack of inspiration, a lack of A-HA? Those are the times it is most important to just do. You have to just do something, anything. I’ve hit this point a number of times in my life, and it usually results in my getting bummed about not having a clue what to do, no idea of what I want to work on, and so I just sit there feeling sorry for myself. Trouble is, sitting there won’t fix this problem, only work will. So you have to dig down deep, pull your ass off the couch, and go do something. Initially it isn’t even important what you do, only that you do it. As a creative you can be inspired by any number of things, art, music, your neighbor, almost anything! For some reason our subconscious digs on this and as you start to work it will find itself getting cranked up and eventually lead you to something. Then it’s all roses as you’re back on track! Until the next rut…at which time you have to get to do it all again.
So the secret is to just do. As a creative your work is inspired by what you know and what you do. Feed what you know by reading more books and poetry, watching cinematic genius, listening to music, or whatever gets your juices going, and then go do what you are passionate about. Let your work and your passions guide you.
Flow is the next concept, and I promise this is short and sweet. Flow (known to athletes as the zone) is that state of intense concentration that we can achieve when we are truly absorbed by something. It’s those times where you lose track of where you are, have no concept of time, but are utterly absorbed in whatever it is you are doing. Flow is the state where optimum creativity is achieved, and anyone can get into this state. The trouble is, every person gets to flow differently. For me, I listen to music (specifically jazz…good jazz like Miles, Coletrane, or Bird), and do a bit of meditating to clear my mind. This will usually get me to the state of mind I want pretty quickly and I can get to photographing. So what do you need to do? I can’t answer that, but if you play with it you should be able to find it.
So that’s it for my sermon on creativity! I know this was a long post, but when talking about the business of being a creative professional it’s important to understand that the most important thing is to be creative! It’s what you sell, so you have to be good at it! So why then have I been posting random studio photos? The answer is because I have found one of the best ways for me to break my creative slumps is to go into the studio and do a shoot that has nothing to do with my passion of social documentary photography. It forces my mind to think differently about the camera, which in turn spurs new ideas for my documentary work. Additionally, it forces me to focus on connecting with a person, and that is what I truly love most about photography, so I find it tends to get me fired up again. How about you? How do you break the slumps? How do you get inspired? How does your creative process work? I’m curious to know. Also, I thought the images in my previous posts were a big large, so I hope the smaller ones work for you!
Let me finish with one of my first studio shots ever:
And a shoot I later did with Lauren:
Lauren Part 2
Lauren part 2
And finally, a creative at work…
Thanks for reading! As always comments and feedback appreciated!