Sunday, November 29, 2009

creative is as creative does?

I have been taking a class called Arts: The Creative Process. The premise is that by studying and understanding an artist's creative process you can better understand your own artistic process, learn to be more productive and help others be more creative.

Right from the beginning I was propelled straight out of my comfort zone. The creative processes we looked at included writing, acting, dance, music as well as 2D art. Each class involved an exercise led by either the instructor, whose background is in performance art and dance, or a classmate, whose backgrounds varied from theater, arts education, writing and teaching English as a second language. Then there was me, with a work life that cuts across many areas. We were expected to participate in a variety of disciplines as well as lead exercises in activities we had little experience in.

One of the first exercises we did was read the book Einstein's Dream by Alan Lightman. I recommend it. We then made a list of all the sounds referred to in the book and picked two sounds a piece, from we had to make musical instruments. The instrument had to be made of non-musical elements that could produce our chosen sound. My two sounds were dogs barking and horse hoof beats on pavement. Seemed easy enough, but I realized, being a creative thinker visually, didn't necessarily translate to being a creative thinker in a way that would help me complete this assignment. I struggled with it. I asked my musician husband and other friends who I consider to be artists (although they would never describe themselves as artist), for suggestions. They easily rambled off several excellent ideas that I had never thought about even though I had been thinking about this for days!

I eventually used their ideas and came up with two "instruments" that seemed to replicated the sounds - that is if you knew what the sounds were supposed to be before hearing the instrument play!

What I learned was that by defining myself as a photographer I have put a straight jacket on my creativity. Sure, I can critique others' photographs and talk endlessly about my craft. I can previsualize an image before I press the shutter and make a nice print digitally and in the darkroom. But, I have let developing my craft make me a lazy creative thinker.

There is the big "C" creativity that is behind the development of everything from medicine to choreography and includes interpersonal relationships. (People who have satisfying personal and professional relationships with another are some of the most creative people alive! Think of how negotiating a marriage calls upon constant creative problem solving!)

I realize that I let the habit of calling myself a photographer be a label that absolves me from being an active creative thinker. It is like thinking - okay I am a photographer, that says it all - I don't have to actually put any effort into being creative - I am, by definition, creative. How arrogant! This way of thinking is a BIG trap.

I remember a friend once saying that there were those artist who hung out in all the right places, wore the perfect artist clothing and looked like the societal ideal of an artist. However, you never saw the true artist because they were back in their studio, alone, working! This is what I mean about labeling yourself as an artist becoming an image straight jacket that has little to do with actual art production.

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