In photography, as in any creative endeavour, the best we can do to ourselves is not forcing the creative process in order to become better, pushing our creative voice into an artificial direction or somehow become original. None of this will do us any good.
I believe we all, as artists, strive to become recognized or hope our work will be inspirational for others or that we one day will acquire some kind of mastery that translates into a personal expression. I see nothing wrong with such aspirations. That can be a good drive for expansion and growth. When such aspirations take a wrong turn, is when they become the goals in and of themselves, when we try to force ourselves into something that isn’t coming naturally to us. That is when we turn ourselves away from life in the hope of making our creation into a brilliant star. All, but futile.
If instead of seeing creativity as something we need to squeeze out of ourselves, something we have to invent or something we are responsible for, if rather we see ourselves as channels for the muses or inspiration outside of ourselves or whatever you like to call it, the act of creating becomes a more fluid process. It becomes a process that we no longer charge with self-consciously guarding.
I often find my ego gets in the way. I want to take my photographs. As if that is the most important part of my immersion into photography. I the creator. Often, though, instead of going out to photograph, I start to doubt myself. The ego wants to stay put where it has always been. New adventures, new ideas, new anything, is challenging for the ego. But that’s exactly what creating means. So, often when I am about to go out and photograph I hear this internal voice “it’s no point”, “you won’t find anything”, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have a unique voice”, “I am no good”, and so on and so forth. Writers call it writer’s block.
If we rather see our creating as channelling, we become charged with being available to whatever is channelling through us. To the degree that we can set the ego aside, we can then create freely. We turn into a stream of inspiration. We allow it to flow through us. We become an “open channel”.
“The music of this opera (Madame Butterfly) was dictated to me by God. I was merely instrumental in getting it on paper and communicating it to the public”.
Those are the words of the composer Giacomo Puccini. Many an artist back in those days attributed their creations to God. I am not a believer of any godly realm myself, but I see all this as acknowledgement of channelling. Channelling gives us a gate or conduit to something outside of our conscious self, and to let this, whatever we call it—the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the muse—to talk to us. Thus, being creative gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.
Viewed this way—as a form of contact with something larger than ourselves—creating does not remain an ego-centred activity we are doing by our brilliantly selves. It does not remain something that must be protected from life. It becomes, instead, a part of life, a cooperative pas de deux rather than a star turn.
It is possible to create out of the ego. It is possible, but it is also painful and exhausting. Ego wants to take credit. “This is my creation”. But then it starts to flood the consciousness with all the flaws and lack of originality in whatever you create and raises fear in you, that whatever you are doing isn’t good enough. Perfect is the only standard for the ego.
If we see creativity as channelling, creativity is no longer our business. It is given, not something to be aspired to. It is, instead, a natural function of our soul. When we open ourselves to something greater than ourselves working through us, we paradoxically open ourselves to our own greatest selves.
8 thoughts on “Be a Channel”
I like this way of looking at it
Otto, I am very familiar with those voices! Especially when I’m out and travelling , but since I haven’t had a chance to do that since Covid, I have turned inward with my work in any aspect, spiritually and shooting in my home build studio. Great article, Otto, thank you.
Channeling. I absolutely agree. Another composer, Jean Sibelius, said something quite similar to what Puccini said. A gallerist I know often refers to some of the artists as “challenging themselves.” I don’t know that I necessarily see this as a good thing; it sounds forced, cerebral, and quite honestly I’ve yet to see a work I liked by one of the artists who was “challenging him/herself.” Of course we as creatives want to grow, want to develop, but there has to be something organic about it, something that comes from within. Thank you, Otto, I always appreciate something that makes me really stop and think about what I’m doing.
This is such an excellent lens with which to think about our creative output. The concept of “channeling” is really strong Otto. Thank you.
As a nature photographer I sometimes go out looking for a species of plant that I expect to find flowering at that time of year. Most of the time, though, I head out with nothing particular in mind yet almost always find something worth portraying.
You are so right. When I go out with my camera, my thoughts are to see what gifts will be revealed. And then how do I bring out the best of that opportunity. And it’s always great to have a big dose of serendipity to ride along with you! Joe McNally always says to himself when he picks up a camera to clear the camera. I say clear your mind when you are out and about.
I am with you completely. The problem that I have is to find a condition that is conducive for it to flow out 🙂
Beautiful picture you have here, love the colors!
One advantage to being strictly amateur is there’s less pressure to get those wall hanger shots – so if you don’t it’s not that big a blow to the ego. (Unless you have a big ego to start with, in which case you may have issues that go beyond photography or creativity.) That frees you up to do it for the fun of it, which may make it easier to just go with the flow, or “channel.” There’s a certain irony there.