Am I creative? I wonder this a lot. Especially when I look at a lot of other people’s art. Surprisingly, it is not that I think the other work is better, it is that I look at most of it and think: that’s not very creative. I must not understand.
Is everyone else creative except me?
When you seem to be going in a different direction from everybody else, you have to think either they’re wrong or I’m wrong. It is hard to tell, because there are no anchors, no fixed points of reference, no authority to judge. So in a sense, it seems to be entirely subjective.
If there are no absolute standards, I guess I can’t look at other art and think it is not creative. It might be very creative, I just don’t see it. Or maybe I am jaded from making images too long. Maybe I am burnt out or I have set my standards too high.
Been there, done that
It is hard for me to look at art with the wonder and joy I want to. Too often my reaction is “been there, done that; seen it before, and better”.
Is it true that everything has been done? That there are no more new images to make, no new songs, no new novels to write? I hope not. That would be very depressing. It seems like fresh, new, creative things happen. I’m just not seeing it too much in photography.
What is creativity?
It has been said that creativity is your capacity to make innovative connections and free associations that others don’t do the way you do. So apparently there is something unique about our particular makeup and viewpoint of the world. I see things different from everyone else. You do too. So, if we can execute on our ideas, we should be able to bring forth unique and creative things that other people would not do.
But if I create something, does that make it creative? Most of us love to create. The joy and personal satisfaction of bringing something into being that would not have existed without us is extremely satisfying. Those of us who have learned that we can do this become addicted to it.
I hear people equate the concepts, though. I create therefore I am creative. This seems to be at the heart of the issue for me. Creating vs. creative.
Here is one of the places I get stuck. I see a lot of people go to extremes, to the bizarre or ridiculous just for the sake of being different. Is being different sufficient to be creative? By my standards, not every creation I see seems to me to be creative. I can relate to this somewhat satirical quote by Banksy: “Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.“
On the other hand, even if it is not bizarre, much of what I see labeled as “creative” leaves me puzzled. I look at it and think “how can that be creative? I’ve seen images like that lots of times.”
Has “creative” become just a required buzz word that everybody uses? Like “story telling” It seems like today everybody is story telling with their art. No, most of what I see has no story. It is just art that may or may not invoke some feeling or imagery in you. It may just be a pretty picture.
I guess “creative” has become like that. It would be an insult these days to say that someone’s art is not creative or not telling a story. Even when it is not.
Does an image have to be truly original?
It seems to me that there are 3 general classes of creativity: imitative, derivative, and unique. In my opinion, most art is in the first 2 categories. A few works are truly unique.
In imitative art, we see something we like and file it away so we can do something kind of like it later. We may create a very pleasing image, but it has not added anything new to our understanding. Maybe your goal was only to create a nice image. That’s OK, but it will not take you to the level of great art. It is not creativity.
In derivative art, something we have seen someone else do connects with some other ideas in our experience and inspires us to visualize something a little different. To me this is a valid type of creativity. We are building on other ideas and adding to the dialog. We have created fresh new art.
Occasionally, rarely, we or someone come up with something that is a leap from the mainstream. Something that is unique, that truly did not exist before. But even that is kind of an overstatement. There are stepping stones that lead even the greats to where they end up. Andy Warhol couldn’t have gotten to where he went without Picasso, Duchamp, even DC Comics. It is just that some artists seem to leap further and get there ahead of the rest of us. And we envy them.
But maybe I am arguing myself into the position that there is little wild, radical creativity. Most things progress in small steps.
Maybe it just needs to be our own?
With no scientific data, I am guessing that the majority of artists are imitative, and that most of the rest are derivative, as far as their creativity goes. A very few are truly, uniquely creative. Maybe that is good. If there were more creativity then the art world would be yanked in too many directions at the same time.
Even the art world, that thinks it is always looking for something new, resists change. Every major trend, like impressionism, modernism, realism, etc, was resisted by the critics and the entrenched leaders of the current movement. People actually don’t like wild leaps.
Maybe the best we can hope for is to look for derivative opportunities. Try to connect disparate ideas to synthesize something fresh and “creative”. Take risks, but not just for the sake of being different. This will help us rise above conventional ways of viewing things. It will let us contribute new ideas into the discussion and help people take their own steps to new ideas. Maybe the best view of creativity is that we make associations our own unique way to create things different from other people.
This is probably the level of creativity most of us can achieve. Maybe that is all that is required.
For me, I guess I will try to stop worrying about it so much. It shouldn’t matter to me whether or not I think other people’s work is creative. I will focus on making my own work creative in my estimation. I’m the one who has to be satisfied with my work.