Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc. This is the definition from dictionary.com.
Creativity is a hard word to define. We all know creativity when we see it but when we try to define it there will be people that agree and people that won’t agree. Everyone has their own theory on where creativity comes from and how to develop it or coax it out of hiding. I have been thinking about this topic for a long time and been reading many opinions and have tried to be more creative myself. I wrote this post to reflect my thoughts and understanding on this topic. Please leave a comment if you have affirming or dissenting thoughts on this subject.
Like most arguments about different ability levels of people, the first question is whether we are born with creativity or if it is learned. I believe that creativity is innate within all of us. You just have to find the pursuit that you are passionate about and learn all you can about that topic/area so that creativity can flourish. Obviously people will be born with abilities that will give them an advantage in certain things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work hard and learn that craft or find the thing that you are good at. I cannot draw or paint or sculpt art from clay. I have tried and tried all of those but it just wasn’t working. I do love photography though and worked hard at it to create art that I enjoy from it.
School today teaches you how to not be creative. They push memorization and multiple choice tests so that you can be another cog in the system when you get out. This happens in almost every country, not just the US. The system makes you like a machine that can crank out more products in less time for the big corporations. They don’t allow you to wander and spend time with art and new ideas. There was a recent study that came out that showed 90% of Asian schoolchildren are nearsighted. The conclusion they came to is that they weren’t going outside enough and were inside studying so much that their eyes were not developing correctly (http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/07/why-up-to-90-of-asian-schoolchildren-are-nearsighted/). The reason I bring this up is that they are so focused on making the grades and fitting into the system that they are not even enjoying childhood and going outside. Humans have a long history of connectedness to nature, you can even say it is a spiritual connection. By not going outside you are cutting yourself off from what the divine has created, maybe even closing yourself off to the creativity that is there. I am not saying to not study hard and stop going to school. Just that you should try to push past basic education to learn things on your own and live a balanced life. The more experiences you have the more creative you can become.
I will give some more of my thoughts about how to attain creativity later in this post.
Different cultures have explained the moment when you tap into creativity in very different ways. Romans and Greeks both believed that humans did not have the ability to be creative on their own. They thought a higher or divine power infused humans with the insight and ideas to be creative The Greek’s called this higher being a “Daemon” and the Roman’s called it a “Genius”.
During the Renaissance creativity was first seen as an attribute separate from the divine, it was the ability of “Great Men”. For the first time people were given credit for the work they created as individuals apart from a higher power.
Now we have the ability to do brain scans when people are trying to solve a problem that takes some creativity to get through. Using this you can see certain parts of the brain activate when there is an “aha” moment and something clicks. This is the moment when the brain connects multiple ideas to create a new interesting idea. Even though we can scan a brain and see what parts are in motion when a creative thought arises we still can’t explain why it happens.
Most of the time this “aha” moment happens when we aren’t even trying to make anything up. A great idea will just pop into your mind while you are daydreaming in the shower, or zoned out driving in the car. I believe these types of thoughts come from the unconscious mind, which would have a more adept ability to connect all these ideas than our regular conscious and hectic brains would. The question I cannot answer is if some brains just connect multiple thoughts together to make something interesting and new, or is there something more. Whether it comes from a Muse (goddess of literature, science, and arts in Greek mythology), divine power, or just an ability of the human brain does not matter. There are ways to get creativity to show up more often.
Most people will have felt the power of creativity at one point or another in their life. Whether it was an idea that just popped into your head during the day or if you have ever sat down for hours trying to write a paper and the words just started flowing effortlessly out of you, this is the power of creativity. The point is creativity is not just reserved for a select few. There are things you can do to try and have more “aha” moments or create more interesting things.
Here is a list of ways to coax creativity out of your unconscious or even from the divine:
Let me know how you view creativity in the comments. Everyone may have a different method of invoking the muse into their life since no two people’s art is the same. Just get out there and do what you love and let creativity come to you in whatever vehicle it will arrive in.
Sometimes I get unmotivated to take pictures. There are many reasons that this can happen. It can be anything from being burnt out, thinking that there is nothing to take pictures of, or just not feeling satisfied with your work and putting the camera down. One thing that sometimes happens to me is that I start looking at other photographer’s work and think that mine is not good enough. This happens to most photographer but you shouldn’t get down on your work. There are too many things to take pictures of in a new way and so much time to learn how to become better. I wanted to talk about how to stay motivated to take pictures and keep learning to become a better photographer.
We all get burnt out at times. Sometimes all you may need is a little break from taking pictures. Don’t totally forget about taking pictures though or you will end up leaving your camera in the closet for a year. Other times you may have your camera but don’t feel the desire to take a picture. Sometimes you just need to enjoy everyday life without taking pictures of the moment. I bring my camera with me almost everywhere but there are times that I stop and just enjoy the moment without having to record it. I am not saying never take pictures, I just want to state the fact that you should enjoy taking pictures and if you want to pull your eye away from the viewfinder for a little while it is okay.
There are times when you feel like there is nothing to take a picture of and you have no inspiration. Don’t wait for the inspiration to strike you, just go take pictures and work through the times when your work isn’t at the high level that you expect it to be. I think this is the biggest thing to think about. Artists don’t wait for inspiration to create great work. They keep working until they create something that is great. There is always something to photograph. You can start any kind of photo project to get you started and keep working at it.
Learning in photography never ends. You can go out and learn how to do flash photography, which has endless things to learn. Or you can learn to take pictures at night with slow shutter speed photography. It can even be taking pictures of something that you are not used to taking pictures of, like doing landscape photography if you are used to taking pictures of people. By doing this you will broaden your creativity and it will reflect on how you take pictures. Who knows, you may even find a branch of photography that you like even more than what you are currently doing.
I think this is one of the most important. You need to be confident that you can or are creating good photographs. If you start browsing other photographer’s work and think that your work is horrible don’t worry about it. Everyone feels this way about their photographs at some point. Just keep practicing and learning and believe in the fact that you can become better. You can even go through your older work and try to find the reason why your favorite pictures are your favorites and what you dislike about the ones that haven’t made your favorite list. Everyone has their weaknesses, you just have to find them and try to overcome them.
Try getting a new lens or camera if you feel like your photography has hit a wall. It’s not that you absolutely need this gear to be a good photographer but it can help you stay interested or broaden the areas where you can successfully take photographs. I have just recently bought a Canon 5D Mark II and it has opened a world of low light photography (due to being able to use high ISO) that I have never experienced before. The pictures out of the camera look so much different than they do with my cropped frame camera which has made me view my pictures differently. Don’t fall into the trap of needing to acquire new things to drive your photography passion though. The newness of something can ware off really fast if you let it. Appreciate what you have and make sure you use it.
There is a lot of argument on blogs about whether you should use zoom lenses or prime lenses. I am not going to feed this argument but I think that by using a prime lens it can help you be more creative. You have to work harder to get your subject in the frame in a pleasing way by using your feet to zoom. You will also be able to predict how an image will look with that prime lens without actually having to look in the viewfinder so it will be easier to find more interesting subjects.
By starting this blog it has me thinking of new photographs that I can take to share and explain. I am also motivated to take more pictures so that I can share them on my blog. By sharing what I know it also helps me to better understand the subjects that I am writing about. To teach something you really have to know it. Starting a blog is like starting a new project to accelerate your photography.
The biggest thing photographers gripe about is not having enough time to take photos. If you’re passionate enough about something you will make time for it. Even if you only take pictures for 15 minutes a day, in the long run it will help you grow as a photographer. Just take out your camera and take pictures, even if it is just at home around the house. If you mark down all the time you waste during the day, like watching tv, staring at Facebook, or just browsing the internet, it will really show you how much time you let slip away. Make sure you are using your time efficiently because none of us really have that much time to live and enjoy life.
If you shoot outdoors then you definitely want to take this advice. Just by being out during the golden hour, which is an hour at sunrise and an hour at sunset, it opens the door to many more photo opportunities. The light is soft and warm and not harsh like it is during most of the day. Your pictures will look a lot more interesting when they are taken during these times, which in turn will make you want to go out and take more photographs. I take most of my pictures during the winter because the days are shorter and it is easier to get out at these time because they are at more reasonable hours. During the summer the days are long so the sun rises early and sets fairly late, which are the times that I am not out and about. I think it is definitely worth getting up early or staying out later to catch this time of day though.
Travel to a new place, it can be either really far away or just to a new city. By doing this you will see the place with fresh eyes and will be able to come up with more photographs than if you were just shooting in your regular areas.
There are many more ways to stay motivated in photography than this but I believe this is a good start. I think the main reason people get unmotivated is because they are not doing everything they can to stay creative. For this I would recommend Steven Pressfield’s book: The War of Art. In this book he talks about overcoming resistance and fighting to not become mediocre, but to become what we are called to do. Don’t be afraid to work past the fear and don’t be afraid to succeed.