On Photography, Skill, and Being Creative

I recently read (well, mostly skimmed) a book called The Creative Habit. It was mentioned in a post by Merlin Mann several weeks ago, and while I haven’t gone as ga-ga about it as he has, I thought it made some useful points. Although the book was written by a choreographer, the ideas can be applied to any creative endeavor – art, music, design (of any kind), even programming.

I came away with a couple of main points from the book…

Point #1 – Creativity isn’t a gift reserved just for the chosen few. I’ve seen quotes from some artists suggesting that “you’re born with it or you aren’t”, and that it’s not something that can be learned. Hogwash. Such an attitude is driven either by an over-inflated ego or by a fear that maybe they’re not as uniquely gifted as they’d like to believe. It’s certainly true that some people are more naturally gifted in particular areas than others, but while you may never be “the best”, it’s certainly possible to get better, and maybe even get “good”.

Point #2 – Creativity takes a lot of work. This is the point that served as sort of a wake-up call for me, even though I instinctively knew it to a degree. Creativity isn’t about waiting around for the inspiration to hit. It’s about going through the motions, on a regular basis, whether you’re feeling particularly creative or not. (Hence the name of the book – The Creative Habit).

Here are the implications in terms of my photography hobby: If I wait around to go out and shoot until I’m feeling really creative, I’ll be shooting much less often. And that’s because I never know when the creative muse will come calling, and when it does, there’s a decent chance I can’t act on it because of other responsibilities (e.g., my paying job). So I need to regularly put myself in situations where I can practice creativity – making myself go out and shoot…putting that into my schedule.

And I have to say – forcing myself to do it is starting to help me notice more creative possibilities. Just sitting here now on my couch, typing this entry, I noticed 5 potential photographic subjects within about a minute. And that motivates me, and encourages me, and gets my creative juices flowing in a way that sort of feeds on itself. I know there will still be times when I get stuck in a rut creatively. But having the habit – making myself go do it – is the best recipe for getting un-stuck.

So here’s to the hard work of creativity…


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