My creative process always involves a heavy focus on the theory and mechanics of whatever medium I am working in. I always feel like the more I know, the easier and less frustrating it is to create.
For example, I obsessively study music theory so that when I sit down to write something, I have endless options for where I could start, and then clear paths for developing that initial idea. The same goes for photography. I’ve learned the manual controls of my camera well enough to set them with my eyes closed, so that I can focus strictly on what I’m shooting.
There is a certain freedom to knowing the rules of an art form; it enables you to see when and how to break them. But there is another component- there isn’t a tipping point where you suddenly know enough to make some masterpiece, and there isn’t ever a point where you’ve learned everything there is to know. I’ve found that while it is extremely beneficial to start with the theoretical, you can’t use that as an excuse to put off actually using the knowledge. You have to use what you have available right now, make what you can and learn in the process, and then improve from there.
I also find it a little strange to be writing an article full of advice and wisdom about creativity, as if I have it figured out. My general opinion is that ninety percent of everything I create is complete crap. What changes is the threshold of what I consider ‘decent’- that gets a little more selective with every piece of work I produce, so that even though I may not be happy with that bottom 90% of my current work, I can still see the progress from whatever I was doing a year or two ago. But I also don’t mean that in a self-depreciating way. Too often I’ll fall into the trap of comparing my first draft with someone else’s finished, pinnacle-of-their-career kind of project that has gone through a decade of editing, and then of course the page of hastily scribbled ideas and five note long hint of a melody I came up with in English class looks really stupid. Or I’ll get into the really unhealthy mindset where I’ve linked the quality of my creative work to my worth as a human being, which never ends well. No, I’m never happy with most of what I create because in it I see everything that I still have left to get better at, which is a very long list. But most of the time this is motivational, because it makes me want to keep going. I don’t think there is any circumstance with creative work in which having a beginner’s mindset would be a bad thing. No one has it completely figured out, and the more you pretend you do, the less you grow as an artist.
With that said, I have discovered some things that at the very least, are helpful to me:
- Ideas are very rarely born on a screen. So many of the ways to develop or share an idea are, like photo, audio, and video editing software, social media, our interactions with other people and collaborators, and so on, but starting a project, getting the first concept of it, is very hard to do while staring at your laptop. Moreover, on a computer it is way too easy to hit the delete key before you’ve fully explored where you can go with the idea, and then you’re back to a completely blank page. Ideas come from experience and exposure to new information. You have to live to be able to capture life in your art.
- Create for the process, not for the end result. I take photos and write music and make films and everything else because I love it. External validation of the finished product is nice, but I don’t think that can be the point of it all. I would get bored really quickly sitting around in the ‘glory’ of past accomplishments, with nothing new to work on. Also, you can never count on a finished project being particularly well received, so if that is your goal you risk feeling like the hours of work were wasted.
- Work with other people. A second person working on a creative project can be incomparably valuable. It forces you to get things done and greatly diminishes the available list of acceptable excuses for not working on the project. In my experience, even bouncing ideas off someone who knows absolutely nothing about art or the topic of your project can be useful.
Of course, everyone’s brain and process is different and what is useful for me might be counterproductive for you. And in all honesty, my opinions on creativity might be wildly different next week, but this is where my mindset is right now, and if you think being in the middle of at least a dozen giant creative projects is a good place to be, then I guess it works.
Written by Brenna Kennedy-Moore
Edited by Anne Irving