The Courage to Create

I am soon starting my fifth year as a blogger (and since the start of this blog I am now contributing to three more blogs…). In kind of a celebration of the fact, I want to go back to the roots, to why I started writing this blog in the first place. It all has to do with creativity.

As photographers (remember I am a photographer – but of course, what I am writing here is just as valid for any kind of artist) we all want to be creative. For me to be able to understand creativity, or more correctly to explore the realms of creativity, is so important that I even created (excuse the pun) this blog about it. The main theme for the blog has basically been and still is creativity; that is finding out what creativity really is, how the creative process works and how we can stimulate this creative process in our work. I have had no definite answers to post but I have just been trying – and still am – to walk this road of more or less unknown territory of which we all have so many views, some more qualified than others.

Of course creativity is the driving force behind our attempts to make lasting images, to articulate our innermost thoughts, dreams, worries, concerns or ideas of the world through the language of photography (since I am after all talking about photography here), it’s the driving force with which we express ourselves and what we as human beings stand for. But it’s also intimidating – at least can be at times. When we try to force or squeeze creativity into being, when we so want to be creative that instead it vanishes into thin air, then it becomes an inhibition. Because we cannot force it, we can’t even think about it while being in the moment of creation, without it fading away.

It’s like a divine spirit, it’s there but we can’t capture it, and the more we try the more it will slip away instead. When we really try to be creative, that is when we are the least. But with trust, patience, honesty and humility, and without expectations, the divine spirit of creativity eventually will show up – for all of us. The excellent photographer David duChemin talks a lot about the muse in his blog (and if you haven’t checked it out yet, I strongly recommend you to do so here). One place he writes: «Don’t worry about getting inspired, being original, or any of the other things that haunt the creative mind. The muse will show up, she always does».

But what is this muse? What is creativity? Many bright minds have spent long hours trying to find an answer. Some might have come very close, not necessarily all by themselves, but their combined wisdom does say quite a bit about this very abstract and yet so very forceful spirit. As for myself I only know that creativity is an underlying, in-dwelling force infusing all of life, included ourselves. A lot of us lose contact with this creative force, though, when we grow out of childhood. And why should we bother about it? Why even try to ride this power that can be so evasive and so demanding? «Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money», according to Brenda Uelanda, now passed away journalist, editor, freelance writer, and teacher of writing, best known for her book If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Or as the writer and poet Alain Arias-Misson puts it: «The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate – it’s life, intensified, brilliant life».

One more thing I know about creativity: It doesn’t come by itself. You can’t sit down and wait for creativity. The only way it shows up is by working, and usually by working hard. Not only do we have to work and work hard, but for the muse to really show up, we have to challenge ourselves during the work, we have to go down that road we don’t even dare to. Such as George Bernard Shaw stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz, that the authentic creation is an active battle with the gods. In other words; to be creative takes courage. The American existential psychologist Rollo May has written a very reflective and philosophical book about this, called nothing but The Courage to Create. In this book May not only elaborates on the courage to create, but also tries to define what creativity is – and strongly connects it with the same courage: «The Creative Courage is the discovery of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which society can be built», all according to Rollo May. Of course it’s a very intellectual statement, but I still find it compelling. Anyway, according to him the fundamental purpose of the creative process is to express one’s inner vision and the spiritual meaning or understanding of one’s culture. For me this is really the driving force behind what we do. Why we photograph, or paint, dance, compose, sing, perform or whatever we do. Creativity is, put simple, bringing something new into being. The reward itself. A reward, though, that it will only come to us if we don’t force it, if we let it come to us, through work and an open mind.

In many ways it’s just like love, isn’t it? Actually, it is love.

91 thoughts on “The Courage to Create

  1. “Art is intensified life, brilliant life” …. I love it, that is exactly it! That’s how I feel when I’m inspired, when I’m creating new images, however simple. Vibrant, and most of all ALIVE! Thanks for mentioning this quote, it has made my morning!

  2. Another excellent article on creativity Otto. I couldn’t agree more that this is something we really have to work at, it won’t come to us, we have to go after it. The more I take pictures, the more pictures I realise I need to take. Luckily, the more pictures I take, the more pictures I want to take. 🙂

  3. You can’t imagine how your words have touched me and I feel the energy that goes through my whole body, I feel alive and courageous. Thank you, dear Otto, for your inspiring help. Have a creative day.😄

  4. I agree that we have to work at it for our creativity to work for us, but sometimes I feel like I’m chasing it with a stick and it runs away. I think maybe that’s part of the allure. When we’re in the flow, life is so wonderful. When we’re not, we just want to get into that happy place again so badly. Great post!

    1. I guess part of my point is exactly that if we chase creativity with a stick, it will often slip away. If we on the other hand just do the work, without thinking about being creative – it will suddenly show up. 🙂

  5. Brenda Ueland’s book is a small gem that I discovered years ago. Delighted that you mentioned her contribution. Also Rollo May’s inspirational book is one that I’ve read over and over. I do like your metaphor about creativity and love. Creativity can be born through so many different facets of human behavior and experience that love (ourselves or others) is certainly one of them. I also have studied and given great thought to the subject. Mostly, we must live a life true to ourselves, and passions will arise that spark creative acts in whatever response we have to them. For me (and I’ve mentioned this comment previously to you) creativity comes on a continuum. There are smalls acts of it that occur and there are more cogent ones. One is not better than the other; it’s our perception.

    1. I think you touch onto a very fundamental part of understanding creativity, that is it will arise out of a life true to ourselves. That’s the only way to be genuine creative – I believe. And, yes I agree, creativity comes in a continuum. It’s hard to say that this is contributing to creativity while this isn’t, because creativity is so bound to the life we live. Thank you for a thoughtful comment, Sally,

  6. Wonderful post Otto! I love that Brenda Ueland quote and her book. I use that quote a lot in my workshops and her book was a huge spark of inspiration for me many years ago.

    1. Same here. When I read it the first time long ago, it blew my over. Ever if she writes about writing, it can easily be translated into anything creative activity. Thanks for you comment, Mary.

  7. Happy almost fifth blogging anniversary, Otto. We are the lucky ones that are at the receiving end of your blogs; always an inspiration and motivation on everything creative.

  8. ”The only way it shows up is by working, and usually by working hard. Not only do we have to work and work hard, but for the muse to really show up, we have to challenge ourselves during the work, we have to go down that road we don’t even dare to.”

    Oh, that is so true! Even if you don’t feel like showing up, show up anyway, and almost always one can awaken that muse! Z

  9. Otto, I somehow got disconnected from your blog and wondered why I never found you in my feed. I missed you. I’m back, happily so. This is a great post. The statement that resonated most for me is this one: «Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money»

  10. It is good for me – and many others – reading your contributions like this one.
    One thing is to work hard with an open mind to create something new and loving what I do – something different and very important is to let thoughtfulness fit in between all the work ….

  11. I don’t know how I feel about this piece. It’s making me think too hard… On the one hand, work is what creates creativity — and then I realize that sometimes pushing too hard creates a sort of nothingness. A non-creative piece. I get mad at myself. I’m disappointed. I just read this post twice – makes me think. I struggle with exhaustion. Exhaustion of creating, of trying, of feeling disenchanted. I crave something more…. progress…. is that part of the creative process too? Maybe, but I don’t like it…. I just want to create, and leave it be and not worry about what it does in the world.. and yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say… I’m tired, of not moving forward. And forward means being able to do this full-time with not a care in the world of financial obligation. Right now, that’s impossible. But it’s grating on my soul. And yet, I’m not tired of creating, I’m tired of not being satisfied with the outcome…. any advice? Any thoughts Otto?

    Thank you for this piece — I have to go write in my journal now….

    1. My point in this post is exactly that we need to create, and leave it be – the worries. If we push too hard to become creative it slips away. But then of course the mercantile part of your frustration is something else. I know that frustration myself – and if I had known the trick to that, I would have done it myself long time ago. I just keep moving ahead, pushing the business as much as I can, and try to let the creativity not be influenced by the economic sides of things. Hopefully they will both come together one day. 🙂

  12. I really like the last two sentences that sum the whole thing up… and I agree. I also have been wondering about how the picture relates to the article. The picture just then slid in place at the end. Well written!

  13. Love this post! Art and making art is so hard to define, which is its best and worst quality. I believe it is critical to recognize this quality and strive to communicate it and think about it, which helps people value taking in art and being artists even more. Thank you for your thoughts and research. 🙂

    1. That is a great way to describe how creativity works – it comes flying at you from outer space… I does work like that for me – with photography. And by the way, of course there is gear for writing, at least a pen and paper. 🙂 Thanks for the link to the TED talk. A great piece.

      1. yes but van gogh wouldn’t have murdered his own brain over a bad photo, and ernest hemingway wouldn’t have murdered his whole self over a bad photoshop plugin lol it’s not comparable, if it was, i wouldn’t be taking photographs, i would be wretchedly blocked and in horrible angst about my LIFE, like i am with writing and art

        1. i just mean there’s a big, BIG difference between manipulating things that are there, or ‘framing them’…. than creating things that did not exist before you picked up a pencil…. and that difference is why everybody and their dog are good photographers these days, but good writers? erm, NOT SO MUCH 🙂 i wrote my first novel, it was simply taking dictation from God lol…. my next two novels were crap and i lost them in a move…. if ‘God’ doesn’t show up for creation, there is no creation…. with a photograph? what’s the secret? buy a camera and push the button 🙂 i’m joking, lol, but just a bit 😛

          1. Of course there is something true – in what you say about photography. Not every photograph is art, but when photography is art the photographic process is just as demanding creatively speaking as other work of art. 🙂

            1. well back in film days i found photography demanding, tis true…. i once spent 3 months hunched over a view camera trying to get a double exposure shot, i masking taped off the black baseboards of the room to make it all white, i pulled apart a clock to change the order of the numbers, etc etc, i failed at getting that photo, after MONTHS of trying, i sooo wanted it… i could do it in 3 minutes in photoshop now…. that’s all i meant, in the 70’s people were rightfully scared to take up photography…. not so now, hmmmm?

              1. have you ever TRIED writing a good novel? or drawing or painting a great picture? you might not say that, maybe?…. i’m sorry if i’m sounding like a jerk, i’m worried about the elections in Israel and am distracted to the max

                1. Don’t worry, And yes, I have written a couple of novels. Of course taking one pictures doesn’t amount to the same work. But if you work on a long time project, it’s definitely comparable. For instance I have had Cuba as a long term photo project since 1991. As to Israel, I think a lot of people are worried about the election.

                    1. yeah sorry, i didn’t mean to imply YOU, i was talking about phones and instagram photos and trey radcliffe… i take bad pics coz ‘good pics’ are a boring cliche now lol but YOU are obviously extremely rich in the art

  14. I really like the conclusion you have reached here. What a beautiful summing up of a fascinating and thought provoking post. I hope you keep blogging for many more years.

  15. Everything you wrote resonated with me. I find that creativity is also the process of being curious enough to ask “what if?” and then go about exploring the possibilities.

  16. Otto!~ I love to read your insights… Creativity is imagination having fun … and as the word implies: creating…
    I totally agree with you when you say: “Of course creativity is the driving force behind our attempts to make lasting images, to articulate our innermost thoughts”… I’d say that probably time itself is involved here… memories, experiences… Time in its three faces…
    By the way, your writing style is remarkable… Very touching!… I’d love to read more!…
    Best wishes to you ⭐ Aquileana 😀

  17. I love the gentleness ways of your dynamics… love. It really makes your work unique, and very personal, Otto. Beautiful post.

  18. I can’t believe it took me three days to write here.
    Not because I didn’t have enough time, it’s because
    of that picture above. Otto, where have you been
    to take such a picture?! And who is the guy that
    crawls through the main guys chest hair? Gee!…
    You’re brave 😀

    I’m not concerned about my muse at all, she’s always
    right by my side. I see something and in my head there
    are right away some thoughts about what I can do
    with it.
    The bad thing about having a muse like her, is that
    I sometimes forget all about what I wanted to do in
    the first place 😀
    And my creativity was tought to me by my parents,
    if I wanted something I had to do it myself. That’s
    how it started and I don’t think it’ll ever stop until
    I turn blind or die.
    Have a fine evening – just don’t go to that place again! 😉

    1. Where have I been? I was both in front and behind the camera. 🙂 Otherwise it sounds like you have a great relationship with your muse. So what if you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. Maybe the result was different – but even better?! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on creativity.

  19. Otto, Apologies for stepping in so late! I was positive one of your posts had a quote on “GREATNESS” that I wanted to write down in my own quest to define such a fine word…appropriate when defining what we do….create…and what makes greatness. But…I can’t find it. I was sure I saved it. Do you recall where that quote might be? I am fairly certain it came from one of your posts…..

  20. I found it, Otto!! What I was looking for was on another posting by another author discussing much the same: creativity. In part, and speaking of the genius of Mozart: “Because Salieri knows Mozart is a genius, his own failure then seems inevitable. But the real weight…and every artist–every person who strives for greatness–suffers is the weight of not knowing. You must find in yourself the courage to leap off the cliff. Yet it is not up to you whether you fly or fail.” from Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music. Glen Kurtz, author.

    As usual, thank you for your inspiration.

    1. I am glad you found the quote, because I certainly couldn’t find it among my posts. :-). Yes, the weight of the unknown is sometimes a tough burden. But whether you fly or not, is a little up to what is important with the process for you. Is it success or is it the creative act itself. At least that’s how I see it. Thanks for a thoughtful quote.

  21. It’s a very nice thing to be reminded that creativity is fundamental to who we are as humans.My “creations” don’t always work out to be something wonderful, but the experience and practice usually is. Five years of blogging is a long time! You have been such a consistent encouragement to other bloggers and a wonderful inspiration, always pointing out the value in stretching and growing creatively. Thank you, Otto.

    1. You are of course right in that there is no telling what the final result will be in the creative process, but if one think as the process as the goal itself, it matters less. Thank you for the lovely words, Debra.

  22. Excellent post, Otto! A lot of writers don’t believe in a muse, but they do believe in hard work. I’m still out on that muse business, though I often create one for myself to have conversations with. Heh. All I know is that the more I write, the more limber my creative brain. It needs a lot of exercise. 😉

    1. The thing with the muse is that it has many names. Some call it, yes, muse, others inspiration, creativity or even god. For me it’s not important want it’s call, but I believe there is a state of mind in the creative process when you feel connected to something different than the usual you. And usually it takes a lot of work to reach that state of mind.

  23. This ties in so beautifully with the workshop I attended in Italy. Devotion, dedication, showing up to work at your craft, whether it is writing, photography, painting, etc. Working at anything wakes up the muses! Love this post Otto! Spot-on.

  24. Something was nagging at me after I read this, and the comments, and finally I can put it into words.

    I know many people who want to be writers. But strangely enough, they seem to enjoy being trought of as writers more than they enjoy the process of writing. I think it’s the same with creativity. There are people who obsess over developing their creativity, who present themselves as dedicated to creativity, but who seem never to create.

    This is the point where I see the connection between love and creativity. Both require self-forgetfulness. It’s impossible to create with one eye on the audience, or with constant attention to others’ judgment. When I first began writing for my blog, I used to wonder, “Will this entertain? Offend? Bore?” Today, I work on a piece until it’s right — in my eyes alone. If others like it: wonderful. If no one does, I still have the pleasure of having created something that pleases me. With that kind of mindset, I’ve found, it’s always possible to improve, but there never is a failure.

    1. What you say he I think goes right to the core of the creative process. Why do we create? For pleasing other – or monetary gains? Of for the love of creating? You raise a very important question. Thank you, Linda.

  25. Happy 5th anniversary Otto! your blog stands out among the thousands that appear on WordPress. I always look forward to your words of wisdom and your perspective on photography. Your blog is very inspiring to me and I hope for many more years of more words and images from you.

  26. Creativity can be so illusive. Sometimes an imp shows up disguised as inspiration, and I take its hand believing that we’re both going on a mutual journey of creating something special. When I least expect it; however, the impostor reveals itself and mocks me. I haven’t created anything truly original or amazing.

    Oh, the frustration. I get so disappointed with myself — my cursed ego!

    Other times, true inspiration also comes when I least expect it, and I produce something that I can take real pride in. Sweet revenge against the imp!

    1. I guess everybody experiences the ups and downs of the creative mind – and how it surprises when it comes what works or doesn’t work. Thank you for sharing your experience, Allan.

  27. Otto… thanks for yet another dose of inspiration! And once again, I’m going to say that there’s a very zen like quality to all this: You can’t force creativity — but if you’re after it, you can’t just sit there and do nothing, either. It’s got to come from within.

    Now to tweet this post of yours…

  28. Creativity. Imagination, then picking up the pen or paintbrush or camera or whatever tool that furthers the inspiration. Reminds me of a mind-blowing discussion I had back in the ’70’s. Nice post, Otto.

  29. Your blog has helped me understand my own creativity, Otto, and has also encouraged me to “go with the Flow” (pun intended). Creativity can’t be put under a microscope to come up with a scientific description, but aspects of creativity can be discussed and analyzed. You have done both well through your posts.

  30. Wonderful post Otto, it makes me take a look at how I create (and get myself into the creative mood to let things flow). There is nothing quite as special to have a muse that can help lead the way, but it is scary when none can be found…

    Getting out to “explore the realms of creativity” should be exciting and fun, but sometimes it is the exact opposite…almost painful. But doing it, even when ‘not in the mood’ for me creates a flow that in the end often becomes one of those electric moments in creativity and art. The courage to create indeed ~ and there is always a muse around the corner (at least I like to think that there is!).

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