Ok, my mind is wandering at 0450 in Bozeman, MT on the way to Colfax, WA for our workshop. So, where else to put random thoughts than on my blog.
Buzz words today like creativity, vision, personal style, fine art etc., can generate a great deal of money in education, book sales, webinars, online courses, etal. But, how easily attainable are these things. One is lead to believe that anyone can be an artist by virtue of external stimulation. But, doesn’t creativity, vision, and style come from within? For example, style evolves through a lifetime. Granted that these traits can be brought to the fore through education and exposure to great teachers and a creative, encouraging environment, but these are processes that may or may not ever come to fruition. Or, may come to fruition in varying degrees. If everyone could become Picasso, wouldn’t he become meaningless. What separates people of that ilk from the rest of the world are intangibles, unquantifiable qualities, qualities that cannot even be listed much less taught.
As an educator for 40 years, I have found that students can be broken down to a triage system: students who will be fine with minimal intervention (those with intrinsic talent and personal drive); students who greatly benefit from full engagement with the instructor (those whose talent has to be drawn out. These are the vast majority of students/clients); and students who are in the wrong class (those who will not greatly improve despite the teacher’s best efforts). However, one cannot discount persistence and desire in overcoming obstacles for those who may be told that they are “in the wrong class.”
It is a duty of an instructor to encourage talent and, on the other hand, to help the less gifted to understand that they may want to move on to another endeavor. Basically, to care enough to inform them that they are wasting their time. For example, after my time in the military (Vietnam era) I used my GI Bill to attend business school for accounting. I made it through and got the degree, but that’s it. My cost acct teacher made me aware that I may be in the wrong place. I had and currently have no idea how to keep a set of books. Then, I picked up a design job at a small firm in Cincinnati. It was a job of precise measurements and precise placement of elements on the page. Again, after not being able to think that way, was reluctantly let go. I went to school to become a computer programmer many years ago. It was an absolute struggle for me and I never wrote a successful program. It didn’t matter what courses I took, who my instructor was, how positive and encouraging the work environment was, and how much I tried. I just wasn’t wired that way.
Creativity is non linear. For example, the easiest thing I’ve ever done was being a professional jazz musician. After all of the hard work of mastering an instrument (drums), I was performing improvised music for audiences of all sizes, on recordings, and teaching in a jazz education program (at the University of Cincinnati). Learning, and as much as possible, mastering an instrument so that it is second nature, enabled me to react appropriately and creatively in live, constantly changing, performing situations. It was the most natural, easiest thing I’ve ever done. It was truly being in the moment and when all the parts were moving seamlessly, was like flying. After over 20 years, the music business has changed, and I have stopped playing professionally, but still do play with friends between photo trips. And still find great joy in the process.
Concepts are transferable and I have tried to adapt that creative mindset from jazz improvisation to my photography and, as much as possible, to my students and clients.
Photography is not what it used to be. I have over 250,000 slides in filing cabinets of pretty straight photography: well exposed, beautiful landscapes and flower images from numerous locations. I began as a nature photographer, after being totally inspired by my mentor and my first and only camera club, where everyone in the club was great to me. And, as in my musician days, was naturally moving away from traditional photography towards a more intimate, non-traditional style, exemplified in my first book, “Fine Art Nature Photography” published by Stackpole.
In the digital age, we can do whatever we can imagine, depending on our software facility and whatever inherent creativity we have. However, having great tools, taking the right classes, and knowing the right people does not necessarily transfer to creating deeply personal work or result in a recognizable style. One can take classes on developing a personal style. How do you teach style? If anything, style is an evolution, an involuntary evolution of accumulated life experiences, and is constantly deepening as we go through life.
How does one teach creativity? Well, ok, we can certainly help people break through restrictive thought processes, which limit and constrict “out of the box” thinking. This can certainly lead to a more creative approach. However, one must keep immersed in a creative environment so as not to fall back to previous thought processes. Reading about creativity and talking about it is fine, but it’s the constant and repetitive process of doing, which will ultimately re-wire your brain to naturally think creatively.
Vision is another buzz word. We can certainly talk about it. We can define it. There are books on it. But, how does one know when or even if we achieve our own personal vision. Again, I believe it is a function of time and constantly doing what you love. It is a process that evolves. It certainly is not formulaic or appears overnight.
So, what are my points, here?
Creativity can be taught to a point. It can be taught to the point of one being able to create consistently well composed, compelling images, which is where most of us are. However, we all know people who exude spontaneity and crazy creativity in every fiber of their being. These people are unique and what they do and how they think (or don’t think) cannot be taught. It can only be marveled at.
Vision is a big time buzz word. That’s all you hear is vision this and vision that. To me, vision is indefinable, although one can find “text book” definitions. It is the culmination of the process of doing something a lot for a long period of time, ultimately resulting in the unique way that one sees the world, or one’s personal vision. The most well worn quote on vision is by Jonathan Swift, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” Ok, that sounds fine, but what does it mean? Have you ever been on a photography trip with someone and, both shooting in the same place, upon seeing his/her work, you said, “That’s great. I didn’t see that.” That’s certainly one definition.
Personal style is purely a function of doing the same thing for many years. Personal style is how others define you, not how you define yourself. I mean, if I say that this is my style, but it’s not recognized by anyone as being my style, then guess what? It doesn’t matter what I say. Personal style is recognized by others and will be attributed to you, if you have developed and communicated in your work over a period of time.
Fine Art? Ya got me. It’s a great marketing term and I use it rarely in regard to compelling work that is out of the mainstream, but I can’t define it.
Final thoughts: Western civilization is interesting. We all want it now. We want to have a vision now. We want to be a creative powerhouse now. We want to have a personal style right now.
In 1968 (circa), the Maharishi Yogi brought transcendental meditation to the United States. Realizing the immediacy of the west, used as his tag line: “A jet plane to cosmic consciousness.” Now, even a young dilettante like myself realized that there was no jet plane to cosmic consciousness. It was a process in which one engaged for a lifetime, but the Maharishi made a fortune in about 10 minutes. Whomever his marketing person was, I hope he got a bonus.
Ultimately, creativity, style, vision are processes that constantly feed off of each other, in which one has to actively engage on an ongoing basis with no expectations. They are not goals that can be finalized by reading a book, taking a class, or attending a lecture. However, creativity, style, and vision can be nurtured by constantly engaging in photography while reading books and articles, taking classes (online and location workshops), and attending lectures, seminars, and presentations, and visiting museums.
It’s the constant immersion in every aspect of photography and keeping a wide open mind that will get you to where you want to be in how ever long it takes to get there.
As in life, it’s about the journey. The destination will take care of itself.
Today’s destination is Colfax for our Palouse workshop. Looking forward to getting out there late this afternoon!
Thanks for taking the time and we’ll see ya online!
P.S. We have a few last minute openings in our Fall workshops in New Hampshire and in Acadia. Please email Susan for more info and/ or to register!
P.P.S Image info: Edisto Beach, SC; Fuji XE2 and 18-55mm lens; 4 minute exposure using the Singh Ray 10 stop MorSlo filter; Athentech’s Perfectly Clear and JixiPix Aquarella plugins and a low opacity layer of AlienSkin’s Snap Art.