A couple of posts ago I wrote about a photograph that I first had dismissed as nothing, only later to find a way to bring out its inherent artistic quality (Blessing in Disguise). Back then the post was about not getting blinded by what might look like a mistake in the first place. The post resulted in many inspiring thoughts as well as interesting feedbacks. Particularly one comment made me want to expand on the thought process behind in principal any creative art form, and more specifically the apparent conflict between craftsmanship or technique on one hand and creativity on the other.
For me technique in relationship to creativity is like roots to a plant. In most cases a plant won’t survive without some kind of a root system, even though the roots themselves aren’t «showing up» like the rest of the plant – thus don’t seem to be important – and don’t need to. Still some plants somehow manage to blossom without much of any root at all and draw nutrition in some other way. So it is with artists. Some are able to work inspiringly without much technical knowledge at all but for must it surely will help and boost their creative process.
The comment I initially referred to, came from Katrien Steenssens. She wrote: «Why should photography be locked in that golden cage of sharpness and so called perfect exposure? – nothing wrong of course with happily living in that cage – I can appreciate and enjoy its often amazing photographs very much – but I resist ‘photography’ being fenced in – pictures that tick, that’s what matters». She is of course completely right. In the end it is indeed pictures that hit us in one way or another that stand out and make a difference. If the creative process becomes limited by technique, then the outcome is definitely fenced in. Katrien Steenssens has a very valid point (and by the way if you haven’t checked her blog halfpasthere, I strongly recommend it. It’s full of amazing art work) .
This said, I still think technical knowledge is an asset, not a limitation. When you know what possibilities you have, you have more keys to play with, and you don’t need to depend solely on luck or some divine inspiration. Again if you don’t let it limit yourself. I have many times written about the necessity to let go, to lose control, take chances or just experiment in the creative process, but I don’t see this as a contradiction to learning the craft.
It’s still a paradox of the creative process. We wish to be spontaneous; we wish to be free and even joyful in our creative expression. Yet, the greatest freedom comes through discipline, a rigorous approach to one’s work and craftsmanship. Only after learning the mechanics of the craft and fully engaging the process of our work with our bodies, hearts and minds, can we hope to be truly creative.
Examining the difference between the artwork of children and adults perfectly illustrates this point. Children are marvellously creative and imaginative, approaching their projects with an effusive, innocent and highly spontaneous energy. However, their work lacks rigor, technical mastery and conceptual strength – without indicating their work is less for that reason. Experienced adults, on the other hand, cultivate critical discernment and a mastery of their medium, learning to appreciate the benefits of sustained efforts of the long term. Unfortunately most adults also lose the child’s spontaneity and innocence in the process of growing up. Ideally, when an adult can integrate the spontaneity and unselfconscious expression of the child’s mind with discipline, wisdom and depth of the adult personality, a true fullness of expression may be achieved.
In Greek mythology, Eros and Logos represents the two poles of experience, both vital to the creative act. For the argument here, we may view Eros as the raw energy of our enthusiasm and passion, and Logos as the craftsmanship, the necessary structure and form, the rigor and discipline of the artists. We need both. As artists we stand between these two opposing forces which we much negotiate in the process of our creative work.