I received an email from a talented and aspiring photographer-friend recently. She had a question: “…how do you figure out what ‘projects’ to come up with that are creative, imaginative and [unique]?” Her question is at the heart of the creative effort.
I’m not an expert, nor do I have any profound insight on this. However, I have been practicing forms of the “creative life” for a very long time and have a few observations. Creative expression has, for me, taken many–often frustrating–turns, music, entrepreneurship, photography, art, and most of all–and most steadily–the written word. (That said, I believe one’s life expression–that is, how to live–the ultimate creative project.) In my experience, nurturing inspiration and learning to focus output are key.
There appears to be as many avenues as individuals to this pursuit. Yet, I think there are specific things a person can do to prompt results. I am going to make a list–presumptuous of me, I know. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:
- Nurture a craft. It’s the first step. “Inspiration comes out of the act of making an artifact, a work of craft,” said Anthony Burgess. If you make a photograph, make the best photograph possible–until you make the next one better. Study the photographs that work. Understand why they work. Exercise this knowledge. Of course, “make a photograph” is code for make a sentence, or make a melody, or make a vase…
- Refine your craft to the best of your ability. Perhaps your ability will occasionally lift it to the level of art. When this happens pay attention. There are things to learn.
- Surround yourself with examples of craft leaning to art. Diane Arbus‘s study walls were covered with photographs she tore from books and magazines. Writers have books, and study them. Learn all you can learn about your discipline and study what has come before you. If possible, sit at the feet of a master, go to a lecture, an exhibit, a masterclass, review a book (a review tests your knowledge of the craft), attend a workshop–do everything time and budget affords in order to learn.
- Indulge your sense of confidence. (This is hard and, to my understanding, never accomplished fully.) That is, gain purchase on what you are good at and build on it. The craftsperson and artist will likely never be complete in confidence, but without it, work will always be tentative and boldness wanting. Take pride in your published work, your exhibited work, your favorite creative effort–and understand its success to the degree your confidence allows. Nurture that. Grow bold.
- Commit. That is, once you’ve mastered the tools of your craft, once you are confident in your ability to execute consistently, commit to the effort. Do the work–therein lies the pleasure. Tennessee Williams said, “I’m only really alive when I’m working.”
- Lastly, work to satisfy yourself first. Let your curiosity guide you. If your effort is true, and your discipline pure, and your craftsmanship masterly, you will satisfy the need to “create.” Everything else follows. The next “project” finds you, not you it.