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Dichotomies of Creativity
Field Notes ed XXI- Philosophical musings about creativity and approaching the creative process in writing, photography, and other arts
Welcome to Field Notes!
This edition needs an introduction; a disclaimer, if you will. What you will find here are some of the shadowy notions that do battle inside of my own head. I tried to display them here, for my own clarity as much as anything else. After finishing this short piece, I am left with the sense that I have only scratched the surface, only made a rough form with my hatchet work. There is much more to this and it will take me longer to explore.
At the same time, much of this seemes familiar. Maybe I wrote some of this before, or maybe I’m just hearing the echos in my skull. I struggled with this one. I almost left it on a shelf to dry out and mature, but I was already knee deep in this swamp and decided to wade through.
In any case, I write and I learn. I’ve plucked a few quotes from some heroes to help. Perhaps something here will be helpful to you, too.
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A well constructed, rational system for the creation of art is not what you will find here. Continue reading and you will be stepping off into a dark forest of the unexplored and unknown. Dangers lurk in the mist, where mistaken side trails fade away. Your companions might not follow. You may get lost. Nevertheless, there are wonders in these woods and to find them you must explore.
The creative process is an expression of contradictions. There is only one correct path to follow and it is the one you blaze for yourself, through uncharted territories.
Infinite, unconstrained possibilities exist on the white blank page, or the empty camera memory chip. Their unbiased openness hold every potential of the human imagination; of the universe itself.
At the heart of all photography is an urge to express our deepest personal feelings- to reveal our inner, hidden selves, to unlock the artist. Those of us who become photographers are never satisfied with just looking at someone else’s expression of something that is dear to us. We must produce our own images, instead of buying postcards and photo books. We seek to make our own statements of individuality.
Authors and artists hope to fill the emptiness with majesty, awe, and wonder, or perhaps loneliness or foreboding. Emotions are the ultimate substance they seek to craft into a representation of the human experience. Yet so often they stare into the blank abyss and are frozen. Austere, vacant capacity can be overwhelming, paralyzing.
The emptiness must be filled. Fill it with anything- a seed. Spill some words, take a snapshot. But here it is, the impossible dichotomy-
Whatever you start with is the most important, the most critical element of your artistic and creative production. The click of the shutter, or a letter on a page is the pure act of creation, called into existence by your own unique mind. This beginning sets the direction of your work and is the most significant step in its creation.
You cannot care about what you first put down. At all. The words do not say what is intended. The photo is flat and lifeless. Scatter them insensibly in the wind, trivial and unloved. More will arrive. They will cluster and grow into something malleable. Then, they can be shaped and molded. With work, they become meaningful.
The world exists, whether you are concerned about it or not. Like a Rorschach ink blot, it simultaneously just is what it is and it is what you make of it.
When I’m ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.
Photographers use the world as raw material, capturing light and shadow to create a depiction of what was observed. Writers take world experience and chisel away the extra with words. What remains is the essential statuesque form of a story of life. So, the next dichotomy for artists is this-
In order to kindle the fire of your artistic vision you must perfect your craft. You must dedicate your whole being to the mastery of your skills. The passionate will understand. Create and learn with such obsession that you begin to see magic everywhere. Forests become compositions of backlit contrast, frozen with shutter speed. Fields become canvases of adjectives for a drama painted with paragraphs.
Artistic expression is a manifestation of who you are as an individual. You are a spark of consciousness, ablaze with life experiences. Your vision is uniquely your own. So, you must participate in and truly savor life. Get lost. Face death. Love. Win and lose great things, on the same day, within minutes. Hate. Cry. Forgive. The weight of all of these things compresses into diamonds of wisdom. But, do it all genuinely and fully, without the self conscious motive of a means to an artistic end.
Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
Photographs are made to be seen, just as words are crafted to be read. As necessary as it is for an artist to create, it is just as important for artists to be seen. What would art be without an audience? It is a transmission from creator to receiver, that benefits and elevates both. As you begin to present your work to the world a third dichotomy stands in the path-
Show your art with the hope that it is widely received. If you are new to it, it is probably bad art. It will probably be understood in the wrong way. Do not be afraid. Your work needs to be seen. Reactions, good and bad, give you feedback. They help you improve. Every creation is an offering of your unique perspective on life, and carries an intrinsic value. It is critical that it is displayed.
You cannot care how your work is received. Your art is your creation, the way you intended, at this point in your journey. This may change over time, but it is true to you right now. Venues differ and what is muted and lost on one platform may resonate in another. These things do not matter. Work to satisfy your own vision with integrity and, in doing so, you scatter diamonds of truth into the world.
The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.
The ultimate destination of this trek through the wilderness of creativity may be self-discovery. Yet it is not a destination. It happens though life and loss and victory, along the way. The path keeps going.
The only things in my life that compatibly exists with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit.
Mystery, magic, and artistry arise like smoke from the holding of opposing truths together, in harmony. Like flint and steel, the friction creates sparks. Use it to kindle the fire in your heart. Then, hold this radiance aloft in the darkness, to help show others the way.
I took the photographs in this edition of Field Notes with my 50mm prime lens. It is one that I do not use often for landscape photography. I’ve had fun exploring the wider aperture options and I’m setting a goal to work with this lens more frequently going forward. I’d love to hear what you think!
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