Jul 012008

So I wanted to talk about creativity, right? It was all induced by a post on Paul Lester’s blog and the discussion that resulted from it. Please go there for the whole thing, but basically I’ve argued that creativity is not the thing to care about, productivity is.

Creativity is the outside view of a productive artist, answering to the inputs from a source of inspiration, busily producing art.

What does that mean? It means that creativity is something to be observed by non-creative people. It is not a category of any importance to the artist. Creativity is an indirect by-product. If you constantly produce, and if your productivity answers to the inputs of your source of inspiration, then you can’t be other than creative.

Creativity was one point in Paul’s post, artistic growth was the other, but it is again the same thing. Constantly produce, and you can’t help but grow. It’s automatic. It’s one of the few things in the world that are free and that we don’t have to worry about. Being thankful, yes, worrying, no.

Let’s get back to the definition of terms. What’s a “source of inspiration” anyway? Well, whatever inspires you. I mean it in the widest sense. For me it’s the visual world. My surroundings. I am a visual type of person. I see, capture, work on that, and the outcome may be either art or a failed attempt, but in the beginning there is always some visual input.

Other artists may be different. Some may be inspired by music, literature, other art, but for me it’s normally raw sensory input. Well, that again can be on a very abstract level, like some lines or angles, an isolated color or some other details that most people wouldn’t see. With enough practice you become pretty good at seeing.

It is also not so that I blindly respond to every input at any time, no, I may use a filter. One such filter is the choice of lens. Normally I leave home with one particular lens mounted, and most of the time I don’t change it during the day. The lens works as a filter, it causes me to look for a certain category of things.

Another filter, one that was effective when I made the first two photos, those of a street scene in Vienna, another such filter is a concept. Here it was the concept of consciously trying to capture “along-the-street” and “diagonally-across-the-street” views. It’s something that I have been on the lookout for during most of the last week. The idea is to slow down on the streets, stop in places where there are no “sights”, look for the “in-between” things, denying the view that there are “sights” scattered around with nothing in between. See “Oasis in the City” on Marti Jeffers’ blog “My View” for a discussion on “in-between-ness”.

I don’t know if these two images are art and, honestly, I don’t care. This “project” if you will is an attempt to see my own city with fresh eyes. I concentrate on something that I have not done in a while, and looking at the images that result, Saturday’s “624 – It’s OK To Listen To The Gray Voice“, Sunday’s street scenes that you see here and so many others that I don’t show because they either had some flaws or I simply did not have the time to work on them, looking at these images I am amazed to discover views that I must have seen before, but can not remember. All that is fresh and exciting.

What’s so exciting about two street images that look almost the same, you may ask. Well, it’s that they are adequate solutions to two very different problems. In fact, that’s something important. The subject is not what an image is about. Yes, these two images have mostly the same subject, a crossing of Neubaugasse and Neustiftgasse in Vienna’s 7th district, but that’s not the what they are about. The first image is about an urban canyon, a meandering street, a fan-like roof line in the background, and about some details that you unfortunately can’t see at this resolution, even when you click on the image. You would need a big print for that.

The second image is not about a canyon. You know now that it was taken at roughly the same place, but from the image you can deduce the other side of the street only by looking at the shadows. They hint at buildings, but there is no way to tell what kind of buildings that are. The curving, diagonal movement of the street is important here, but it is broken up by verticals. I have included the posts in the foreground to take up the dominant vertical movement.

You see, these are images with roughly the same subject, but they are about completely different things. In both cases I have responded to my source of inspiration. I did it both spontaneously and with a plan in mind. The plan allowed me to restrict my attention to those aspects that I wanted to trigger my spontaneity.

Whatever your source of inspiration is, if you constantly observe it, you will find a stream of ever changing input, sometimes more, sometimes less changing, but if your work is based on that, your productivity will always be creative and you will continue to grow. The only way to avoid it, is to stop listening to your input.

That’s what happens when artists “find their style”. Nonsense! That’s a euphemism and it should read “find something that sells and that they stick to for the rest of their now non-creative lives”.

Style is another thing that an artist must not worry about. Mind, I don’t say “need not”, I say “must not”. It’s another thing that should be left to be perceived by others from the outside. It’s not your concern. An observable style will result from busy productive work, it’s also automatic, it’s also free.

Basically these are two sides of a coin. When you are productive and listen to input, then you will be perceived as creative, because you respond to an ever changing world, and thus your art is ever changing as well. On the other hand, the experience that you gain by busily producing, will allow you to make shortcuts, to re-apply partial solutions that you have found to be appropriate for certain partial problems. An attentive viewer will recognize that, will see you invariably take a certain direction at a certain crossing, probably most of the time take the other at another crossing. That’s really what style is all about and why it is so absurd to try to appropriate someone else’s style:

From its very nature style is a verb. It is a way of doing, of acting, that is directed by personal and artistic experience. Other experiences, other style. No way to copy that, and why should you want to? You don’t have other people’s experiences, you have your own, and they are worth to be used.

The Image of the Day is simply funny. A battered sign across, telling van drivers to mind the height of the arch. Obviously nobody cared.

The Song of the Day is the Gershwin tune “Who Cares“. Ella or Anita? That’s a little bit like Beatles or Stones, huhh?? I prefer Anita on her 1955 album “This Is Anita“. Any live recording by Ella could change that though. Give me a hint if you know of a good one.

  7 Responses to “625 – Who Cares?”

  1. Hi Andreas,

    Thanks so much for continuing this discussion of creativity and productiviy, along with your view of the “in-betweens”. I finally get what you mean by that and totally agree with you. I suppose the “in-betweens” are the ideas that have always drawn me, especially in city situations. Thanks for putting a name on those ideas for me.

    As to productivity and creativity, I think one finds one’s style by being productive, one finds one’s creative side by being productive — by getting out there in the fray and “fighting the battle” against apathy.

    Thanks so much for continuing to inspire me with your photography and your words!

  2. Great post – I appreciate following the various links included, thank you.
    Eric S.

  3. Great blog, great work.

  4. Odd how our interests appear to intersect. I am in the middle of researching a magazine feature I’ve entitled, Epiphany. It’s bringing me together with some distinguished neuro and psychological researchers who are delving into the source of creativity. And simultaneously I’m reading and interviewing some philosophers and art theorists who come at the topic from a qualitative as opposed to a quantitative direction.

    It was the ancient Greeks who began lengthy wonders into “Where do ideas come from?” And by the time I finish this article for an August fifteenth deadline… well… I should know, shouldn’t I?

    As for your essay… I am putting off reading it. I want to come to it with a more focused idea in my mind, I can only imagine it will influence me, but I want it to be at a more inspirational moment because, after all is said and done… writers do have to produce ideas on demand.

    And if they can be produced that way… Hmmmmm one wonders just how mystical the whole thing is, eh?

    Stay tuned….


  5. Ooops, make that July 15th deadline…. AAARGH!

  6. Hi Andreas,

    Great post. First, thank you for the inspiration of your blog and your beautiful photography. I mostly lurk but when I do I am always rewarded.

    I can’t agree more with you here. I have a whole section of a talk I give titled from Ordinary to Extraordinary and that section is titled Productivity equals Creativity. In that part of my presentation I show the sheer volume of productivity from which the images of mine that other people find to be my most creative work come out of. In one editorial cover shot job (that went on to be used by Singh-Ray in national ads) I took over 1500 pictures at three different locations and the final shot literally came from nowhere… in other words its not an image I previsualized… it just appeared out of the process of being productive just as you describe here.

    When people take in that part of the talk, for some a light bulb goes off. They can see that the shot came, not from a fully formed special idea that I had in my head all along…. it came randomly out of being involved in the process…. when people start to see this is how it works they hopefully start to believe in themselves.

    Lot’s of people who are just getting into photography still believe that the reason some people are getting great shots is because of some magical special something that other people have. We are the same… creativity comes out of nothing. We all start at the same place. Its the folks that are willing to keep starting with and working with nothing who most often end up with something that they and others call “creative” in the end.

    So to me the question is how to be more productive. People talk about inspiration like its some gift from outside of us. In my opinion inspiration is nothing more than a conditioned choice which is driven by a belief system. If you think you have to go the Grand Canyon to be inspired then your creative life is going to look pretty damn bleak. The older I get the more I work on cultivating a belief that every single moment and everything I see is a miracle. And because of that growing belief I spend more time working to grow my eye and my craft so that I can photograph anything, anywhere, at anytime. That is a choice…. it is a habit. So its always time to get on with it.

    If as an artist you aren’t doing that then take a long hard look in the mirror. This is not about saying yes to some something out there. This is about saying yes to yourself.

    Some people get pissed off at me for talking about the rules of photography when I do my daily critiques on RV… well I’m just talking about design and if you don’t have the big boy pants to handle that then God help you… but here is one rule I am deadly serious about and if you don’t follow it your art and creativity will be f____d for all time and it comes from John Cage’s (Composer) ten Rules for being more creative….

    RULE SEVEN: “The only true rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things”….. Amen !!!

    Thank you again Andreas for the inspiration of showing us the fruit’s of all of your hard work here…. Craig

  7. Thanks all.

    Ted, I really look forward to hear of your findings. I’m particularly interested in hearing if there is a difference between artistic creativity and business creativity. Sure, in business the risks you take can lead to your financial ruin, thus I think creativity is frequently reined in by caution, but I am not even sure that it is really the same concept. Or is it? Or is it in our Western world and not in other cultures? I don’t know, but I sure would like to.

    Craig, thanks for turning up here. I knew you would like that post and much of my insights build on your teaching, verified by my experiences of 630 days (at the time of this writing) of daily blogging.

    At #500, Ted asked me “And if there’s one thing that you now know better than you ever imagined you would when you posted #1… Can you share it so we will know it too?

    Yes, there is one. Actually there’s more than one, but that’s it for now: making good images is not bound to be in a certain place, having a certain camera, having leisure and most certainly not from worrying about making good images. It comes from making images.

    Thanks for being here.

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