Creativity is something to be uncovered. This I wrote in my blog post Uncovering Creativity last week. I also stated that I believe we all have access to creativity, that we all have creativity within us. As a continuation of the post I want to raise the question; how do we uncovered our inherent creativity and connect to what I often call our creative well (by the way an expression borrowed from Julia Cameron and her excellent book The Artist’s Way)?
A lot has been written and said about creativity and the mechanisms of the creative process. One thing that recurs in most of the literature – and one of the most important factors in my opinion when it comes to the creative process is passion. Passion is the connection between you and your creativity. If you want to become more creative and be able to develop beyond the ordinary – if your want to find your personal artistic voice – your need to approach your creative work with passion. For me this is where all true creative work starts – no matter what you do. Without passion for your work and through what you are trying to express the process will be nothing but an exercise. Passion ignites the creative process. In this I am not only talking about passion for the craft itself, for instance for photography if you are into photography – which goes without saying, but even more so what you try to capture with you camera – again if you are a photographer. What I am saying is you need to be passionate about your subject, if you want to capture strong images; you need to care passionately about what you are photographing. It’s about emotional investment; if the subject isn’t important to you, nobody else will care about it either. In other words, photograph – or make art about – whatever is important in your life.
When you have found out how to channel your passion into the creative process by finding projects you care about, next step is to connect to your creative well. This is about getting into a state of mind of being in flow, where time stands still and you are completely absorbed by the work. This might be the hard part, because each of us has to find our own way into flow. For many starting is the barrier; by just getting started after a while things begin to happen, you sink into a deeper layer of concentration and feel as if being connected to an external power. Part of this is letting go of fear; fear of failure, fear of others’ judgment, fear of not being creative, fear of loosing control, fear of not being good enough. Part of the process is also letting go; letting go of rational thoughts, letting go of control, letting go of oneself. The before mentioned Julia Cameron suggests something she calls morning pages to connect with your creative well. It’s basically writing three pages in handwriting as the first thing your do in the morning after you wake up, just whatever occurs to your mind and without trying to control neither the thoughts nor the writing. It works and it’s recommendable (for more about morning page, look up my post Finding the Creative Well) .
A third important prerequisite for the creative process is putting in enough work. Even if you are the most talented artist in the world; if you don’t work hard, you will never really get in touch with your deeper creative self. You have to do the work, there is no way around it. When you do the work, you develop your creative mind and you slowly by slowly develop your artistic voice. Through hard work you find confidence and maturity and your unique way of expressing yourself. Give yourself projects and force yourself to complete them. Nothing will develop yourself as much as doing the work. After a while a whole new creative world will open up for you.
As I mentioned in my post Uncovering Creativity, creativity is not a scarce resource that runs out if you draw on it. On the contrary. But sometimes you need to replenish the creative well. By this I mean draw inspiration from other creative persons or artists or anything that makes you feel good. Why not spend a day in a gallery looking at contemporary art? Even just watching a good movie will expand your creative horizon and fill up the creative well again. Nothing is probably better than spending time in Mother Nature. Reading is good too, as are concerts, meditation, or even just treating yourself with a good cup of coffee in a stimulating café.
Related to replenish is retreat. Sometimes when you are struggling with your work, it may be a good idea to step back and let it go of it for a while. Do something different, go for a walk, sleep, see some friends or play with your children. Because even when you consciously let go of your creative work your unconscious mind still keep running in the background. This is a time of incubation. Suddenly when you get back to the work you were struggling with you will find that the challenge has solved itself.
One thing that really boosts creativity is to challenge yourself. When you feel too comfortable and keep doing what you are already able to do well, creativity stalls. Instead you need to face your fears and challenge yourself by doing work you don’t feel comfortable about doing, and in so doing expanding your creativity. If we want to develop our art – be it photography or other artistic expressions, we cannot keep staying in our comfort zone. The result is inevitably stagnation and boredom. Related to challenging yourself is stepping out of the box. This is another way to expand by doing your artistic work in a way you normally don’t. For instance try to photograph simple pictures if you usually prefer complicated images, or vice verse. Or handhold you camera with a slow shutter speed when you usually work with a tripod. This is just two examples, but you get the picture. By forcing yourself out of your usual habit your stretch your craft and find new ways to approach creativity. Related to both these steps are the willingness to learn. If you never stop learning, you will continue to grow and develop. Read books, join workshops, attend lectures, subscribe to magazines or talk with your peers about your craft and the creative process.
Another important part of the creative process is completion. Completion makes the work available to others, makes others enjoy all the creativity we have put into the work. Sometimes we create for ourselves, but even then we need to complete the work. Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work. It’s a mental transition between old and new, which makes us ready to embark on new creative tasks. The completion is also strongly connected to detachment, which I have written about before (Engaged and Detached at the Same Time). With completion we are more easily able to detach from our work, and leave it to itself.
A few more ideas that can be used to develop your creativity and help you connect to your creative well: Make a plan for your creative life and put some effort into thinking what you want to accomplish. Set goals; be it a book, an exhibition, a multimedia program, a show for your friends or something else. Planning can really be a driving force for your creativity. And why not try to create with other? Collaboration can very much spurs the creative process. By working together you may induce way more inspiration in each other than you are able to do on your own. A successful collaboration provides credibility, it gives you an opportunity to gain experience, and it expands your knowledge base, widens your sphere of influence, deepens your relationships, and gives you a real-world resume. But one of the most important takeaways from collaborating is that it promotes your work ethic.