I firmly believe exploration is a foundation of art. Without it, we become stale and stagnant and eventually just start repeating the same things over and over. Exploration leads to growth and creativity.
Many ways to explore
I consider myself an explorer. It is a fundamental activity that I pursue. But I seldom go off to uncharted lands. There are countless ways to explore. Many without even leaving my studio.
Exploring often involves travel, but it also encompasses the ideas of searching and inquiry and discussion and evaluation. It is more a mental activity than physical. Just being in an exotic location does not automatically classify, for me, as exploring. That depends on what you bring from the experience.
When I read books by artists or view videos about artistic technique and thought, that is exploring. It is an inquiry process. I ask questions of myself and attempt to answer them. The process stretches us. Once stretched, we don’t come back to the same shape.
I sometimes spend hours at a time “exploring” on my computer. No, I don’t mean watching TikTok. Exploring editing possibilities and compositing possibilities. Reviewing images and trying to discover new things in them.
When I go out wandering in my local neighborhood, that is exploring. I do it with an open mind, seeking to see things in a new way. It is amazing that I can usually find new sights or see familiar ones in a different way. That is exploring.
Feed your creativity
At the heart of exploring is curiosity. Curiosity is the fountain that waters art. We need to have an active and healthy curiosity to sustain us.
Most people aren’t overly afflicted with curiosity. Is your curiosity a living and active part of you? We have various needs that have to be met, things like food and shelter and emotional satisfaction. I consider my curiosity almost on that level. I wouldn’t die physically if it died, but mentally and emotionally I would be very damaged.
Curiosity can be fed and nurtured to help it to thrive. There are many ways and I’m sure each of us responds in different degrees to each. Some that work for me are reading, learning new things, looking at good art, listening to intelligent people talk, a change of scenery, and play. All of them are consciously done activities that stimulate my brain. I believe this is very important for a healthy, creative life. The fact that you are reading this means you probably feel the same.
The one that probably seems out of place to most people is play. Are you too serious and grown up to play? I hope not. It is actually very important. In a newsletter, Srinivas Rao once said “When we play, we return to a childlike state of curiosity”. I believe this attitude is important for artists. Through play we discover opportunities to extend our artistic vision.
If you believe something is interesting, you are right. Go with it. Follow it to see where it leads. Considering something play lowers the barriers of expectation. No big deal if it is a failure – we were just playing. Brilliant!
Get out of a rut
Without experimentation that is driven by curiosity, we get stuck in ruts. We repeat the same old way of seeing and thinking all the time. Do you have any self imposed “I always do it this way” limitations? We need to view life fresh. Spend a certain part of your time just playing and trying random and ridiculous things. Do something silly. Have fun.
Brooke Shaden once said creativity is curiosity + experimentation. I think that is a good viewpoint. Experimentation helps us discover new things to encourage us to climb out of the rut. Curiosity drives the experimentation. I think most exploration begins with “what if…”.
Head in the clouds
Has someone told you you have your head in the clouds? They were probably not complimenting you. Most people are so focused and pragmatic that anything other than today’s goals seems useless. As artists, we can’t be that. We are on a lifelong quest to create and see the world differently. Sometimes that is best to do from the clouds.
If I can reframe “head in the clouds” to mean healthy exploration backed by wide-ranging curiosity, then I want to be called that.
Be an explorer
Become an explorer. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to jump on a plane to a remote corner of the world. Your attitude determines it. It may just mean going outside with a fresh, new attitude. Let your curiosity guide you. Give yourself permission to play, to experiment, to do silly things. Shoot something new. Go extreme in post processing. Find new themes. No telling where that might lead.
I consider myself an explorer. It is the way I live my life. It has nothing to do with how many frequent flier miles I have. Wherever I am and whatever I’m doing I’m looking at interesting sights, examining compositions, thinking about themes or possible projects. Curiosity compels me to always be seeking.
I love this image. It is built on some things most people would never stop to look at, much less photograph. It was put together in a playful way with some post-processing magic thrown in to flavor it. Complete play. It is a joy to me. I hope you enjoy it.