Creativity is a Process

Is creativity something that just happens when the “muse” takes you over and directs you? I want to challenge that. I believe creativity is a process that we can follow almost anytime, not just when we are “inspired”. I hope this will seem inspiring, because it means we can create great work any time we decide to.

The myth of the muse

Ah, if only the inspiration would come! I guess I will sit and drink wine and read poetry while I wait for the muse to visit. That sounds like a pleasant way to spend a rainy day, but not a way to create art.

The concept of muses comes from Greek and Roman mythology. They were 9 goddesses who controlled the arts and sciences and inspired artists. It is amazing how the concept has stuck. The idea of muses makes a good metaphor. We all know that our creativity seems to increase or decrease at unpredictable times. None of us understand the reasons why. But I will not believe my life and psyche is at the whim of Greek goddesses.

I don’t feel like it

If you believe some external influence controls you then it is easy to say “I’m not feeling it today, so I’m not going to do any art.” Maybe you can do that. I can only behave that way for very short periods of time.

My art is something I have to do. Not doing it is worse than feeling like I am not inspired. I would make “bad” art rather than no art at all. I don’t have to show it to anybody.

I find that when I assign myself a project to focus my creativity or just pick up my camera and get outside looking around I start to feel and see possibilities. Something magical happens to me when I hear the shutter click that first time. Now I am drawn into creative mode. My camera, like many new ones, has a fully silent mode. I don’t use it. I want to hear that shutter slap. It activates decades of muscle memory and discipline. I have made an image. Now I can go on.

Hard work

The bad news (for some of us) is that art is hard work. We cannot always sit around waiting for “inspiration”. We have to make our own inspiration.

Inspiration is for amateurs. Us professionals just go to work in the morning.” – Chuck Close

Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week.” – Joel Grimes

Motivation exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” – Alistair Cooke

Sorry for the blizzard of quotes, but I find encouragement in the experience of others who have been there before. I could have found a lot more quotes on the subject.

So, if you just dabble in art and it is not a driving passion, it is OK to wait for inspiration. But if you are serious about your art you have to just do it. Create your own inspiration. Work. Push on. Get moving to get the juices flowing.

The process

I said creativity is a process. What is the process? As Fast Company magazine said: “stop your whining and sit your ass in the chair.” Sorry to be crude, but it is true. They were referring to book authors, but the same principle applies to other creative efforts.

It doesn’t do much good to complain about lack of inspiration. Do something. Taking positive action will lead to the work flowing. Eventually. It is hard at first, but it is a learned process. “Professional” creatives, like screen writers, copywriters, commercial artists, illustrators, wedding photographers – people who must deliver work to clients on a schedule – just have to get it done. Whether or not they feel like it. The rest of us can, too.

Assign yourself a deadline. Define a project and a timetable. Go out and say you won’t come in until you have shot a certain number of images. Re-evaluate and re-organize your portfolio. Take some action to get some momentum going. It will overcome the barriers in your mind and get ideas flowing. The work you do right then may not be great, but it will get you going.

Projects focus us

I have said that projects are a good way to get ourselves going when we don’t feel like it. Actually, I am coming to believe it is one of the best tools we have. What is a project and why does it work?

A project as I describe it is shooting and editing a collection of images that center on a theme or subject. I believe it helps focus us to write an artist statement before starting the project. This collects our thoughts on the purpose of the project, its scope, its meaning, and what your interest or motivation is.

Write something? You’ve got to be kidding! No, I’ve come to believe writing is just another part of the creative process. It is organizing a linear series of words to communicate rather than communicating solely visually. Both are forms of expressing our thoughts. Both, I believe, are complimentary creative processes.

The artist statement does not have to be long, maybe 200-300 words. It will serve as the guide to focus us and give unity to the project. So be clear to yourself.

Maybe I’m just weird, but putting the blinders on and restricting my thoughts to a project gives me a huge boost of creativity. Rather than my thoughts being diffuse and wandering all over the place, they are focused on one thing. My creativity and energy have something to work on. Throwing myself into coming up with diverse ways to express a single subject is a challenge and, actually, fun.

Get going

Whether you challenge yourself with projects, go to museums, read books, write, finger paint, whatever, do something. Do not fall into the trap of feeling depressed and uninspired and, therefore, not doing art. Get moving to get your mind working. Doing creative things breeds creativity.

Let me know what you do to get your creativity going,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.