It’s Complicated

Last time I wrote about the cognitive theory of vision that says we have a library of images stored in our mind and we automatically match them against scenes in front of us. This time I will say, it’s complicated. Nothing in life is that easy and straightforward. The simple theory can’t explain everything.

To reference one of my favorite quotes from The Count of Monte Cristo (movie version). “it’s complicated”. Life and art is. A model, like the model I described last time, is a simplified version of reality. It may be useful to explain some things, but it cannot fully describe real life.

The safe path

If it is true that we are drawn to reproduce images we already know we like, we get stuck. Now, I think many people would acknowledge that this is true and they spend much of their career remaking the same images. Maybe they are OK with this. It is, after all, safe and comfortable.

I can only speak for myself, but safe is not my goal. Safe gets boring and all the same. If I were a wedding or portrait photographer I’m sure I would have a different attitude. I’m not, so I can get as far “out of the box” as I want.

Where is creativity?

If we only remake images that match our mental library, where is the creativity? Where is that spark that takes us completely outside the normal? What causes a change of direction?

The answer is: I don’t know for sure. But I know it happens. While I believe creativity is a learned process, it is undeniable that it sneaks up on us unexpectedly sometimes. Maybe we intentionally go out looking for something new. Maybe a familiar scene make us ask a question that leads us in a new direction. Sometimes we might have just had something weird to eat and it sparks our brain in a strange way.

Be receptive

I believe creativity is something you can practice and stimulate and cultivate. But those things only encourage it to happen. When it happens, when something new hits you out of the blue, you need to be receptive to it. Sometimes our natural reaction is to resist the risky new “thing”. We may not even recognize it as an entirely new direction at the time we first see it.

Embrace the new idea. Run with it and see where it goes. At worst you decide you don’t like it. Better to have tried and failed than to not try at all. At best, though, it may change you. It may be a new viewpoint on the world.

Think of Bilbo in The Hobbit. He did not want to leave home, but he came back changed in ways he could never have imagined. Most of us are not inviting life changing experiences like that when we follow a creative instinct. But it may be a close as we come.


I’m an artist. If I go through life taking the same pictures over and over, because that’s what is in my mental library, I am stale. I thrive on creativity. I enjoy following my curiosity to find new things. I am refreshed by expanding my vision in new ways. It makes me grow. It keeps me young.

I embrace creativity, not for its own sake but for what it does for my vision. When I grow to a new place in my art I find I need to add some new images to that mental catalog and maybe remove some that I do not care for any more. That is life. That is growth. It’s complicated, but awesome.

Let me know what you think!

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