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Let me ask you a question. Why aren’t you creating right now? I don’t mean right now. I mean now in a general sense. The general-now. The now that’s touching us on all sides.
How come you haven’t posted anything on your 500px or Flickr feed in three months? How come there’s undisturbed dust on the latches of your camera bag? How come you left your camera at home when you went on the hike last weekend? How come you haven’t edited those photos of your new dog? How come, even though you brought your gear camping, you didn’t try taking photos of elk, like you planned? How come a million other things?
Here are some of the answers I would expect:
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- I had another thing to do.
- I had to be up early in the morning.
- I couldn’t find my tripod.
- I was hung over.
- Gas is expensive.
- I want to go with a friend.
- I don’t know any good spots.
- I want there to be autumn leaves.
- I couldn’t find a subject.
- My camera batteries were dead.
- I was hungry.
- I was sleepy.
- I’m really not the artsy type.
- I don’t have anything to shoot.
- Someone else already did it.
- I lost my keys.
- There were angry wolverines in my front yard.
From the view of the general-now, all of those answers are bad. This is something you love, it’s a part of you. And when you create something you’re proud of, you just seem to feel good. People are remarkably good at making time for the things they love. You love this.
So I’ll ask again, why aren’t you creating right now?
There are at least two sides to art: creative and technical. A brush stroke is technical. Where that brush stroke is placed is creative. Knowing the correct shutter speed, where the release is, and where your f-stop should be are mostly technical. Knowing when to press the button and where to point your camera is largely creative.
I think the answer to our big question is in the word. You’re not creating art because the creative part is probably in the way.
You know how to take a picture technically. You’ve watched the youtube videos, and you’ve experimented enough. You know how the f-stop affects bokeh. You know how to stop motion and you understand the trade off that typically comes with a very high ISO.
“My son, those are things our fingers do on their own.” Creativity comes from the heart, or the soul, or from the experience of life, whatever you want to call it. We get so wrapped up in how to create that we give little consideration to the Why, the What and the When. And there’s the catch that is likely responsible for this void of creation. The Why, the What, and the When are usually the place our motivation and inspiration are found. They’re often the keys to our own creativity.
An idea dawns on me. Star trails at my sister’s farm. This is the ‘soul’ we want to understand. Sure, this is a cool idea. It’d make a beautiful photo if I pull it off. But I don’t think I’m that one dimensional, really. I don’t do things just cause they’re cool.
If I keep digging on that idea, I might ask what I have to gain, or learn about myself from creating this image of the star trails, Is it esteem from friends and colleagues? Self-esteem? A sense of accomplishment? Is it professional success? Is it knowledge and learning, or a broader skill set I’m after? Would the image make a great gift for someone? It might be all of those things, or any number more.
The important thing is, I have something I can actually daydream about now. If I wanted professional success out of my endeavor, how would that affect what I create? Maybe that makes some new boundaries that can help me better imagine the possibilities. Where could I put the image when it’s done? On a wall? On a website? In a gallery?
I have a concept, and I have some compelling reasons to see it through. Those are the makings of action.
Star trails at my sister’s farm. That is really quite a vague concept, wouldn’t you say? If I climbed in my car with all my gear right now, I’m likely to get there and have lost my motivation. Sure I’ll have fun, and I’ll probably take a few photos so that I don’t feel guilty about bringing all that gear for nothing. But I’m most likely coming home without having cemented that vague image I felt motivated to create before.
It is here that people seem to fear their own creativity. Or perhaps what is perceived as failure, if other’s don’t like the results of their creativity. Whatever the case, if we let it, because creativity comes from the things inside us, it will flow if we let it. But I understand, without something that necessitates a lot of demanding, creativity-stretching activities, most of us have our fists clinched rather tightly around our creative flow. We don’t want to mess up.
So, that might be true in my case. Maybe, not having had a lot of experience with star trail photos, I’m concerned about not getting it right, and that might be deemed unacceptable for an experienced photographer like myself.
If I thought that was the case, the best solution would be to decide what I’m creating before I have to try and create it. I might close my eyes and listen to some music that gives me chills, while trying to imagine the image I want to create. I might try and sketch what I have in mind. I would likely write in my journal about it. Or describe the image to friends and other artists.
I would try and make that image real to myself before I actually created it.
Once the image is real to me, all I have to do is go and get it. That sounds simplistic, but if you eagerly await and accept whatever your creative parts might give you once you actually get to it, you have mostly cleared a path to getting back to creating.
These star trail photos, when? this weekend? This Saturday? In the early morning? Around 2am?
This series of questions is going to narrow down to a very particular moment in time. And when that moment comes, I’m either going to go and create the image I’ve been dreaming about, or I’m going to decide it’s too… Or that I’m too… Or that I have to… It doesn’t matter.
The most consistent difference between success and failure is action.
The When is the action. The When is the decision, not in the general-now but in the actual Now, to create something instead of not create something. It’s the last choke hold on our creative flow, and on it’s own, it’s unsurmountable.
We will always act on our greatest desire at any given moment. Whether that’s to eat a cheeseburger or to not get fat. To put up with the dog whining so you don’t have to get up, or to get up so that you don’t have to put up with the whining. The desire, either to attain or avoid, is what makes us act.
We can’t snap our fingers and make ourselves desire something. It doesn’t work that way. But, we can change things around us in a way that is likely to affect our desires. And that’s where the Why and the What come back in.
Creativity feels like risk at first. If we’ve understood and appreciated the Why, and we’ve dreamed about the What, then by the time you’re faced with the When the hold you have on your creativity will be loose enough to start moving.
My greatest desire, when I pull onto the grass at the farm is now much more likely to be to run out to the places I imagined capturing the image. I would more eagerly gather the gear from the car. I might even get everything set up hours before I’m actually planning to take the photo! I would be free to create.
I’ve implied here that this process needs to be a long one. But it’s not. When you’re Creativity is free, and you’re not intimidated by (note, I did not say “good at”) the Technical, art just comes out of you.
The When might be right now. Right Now now. Maybe the concept is in your mind. Maybe you know where you want to go. Maybe you have already visualized this image. Maybe it’s as good as real to you already.
Do this quick, right now, where you’re sitting. Ask the Why. Answer as quickly as you can, right from your gut. Ask the What. Close your eyes, picture it. Put on some music. Picture it. Do whatever, just picture it.
Got it? Great! The When is right now.
Do these steps for guaranteed success:
Step one: Stand up
Step two: Walk to your camera bag and pick it up.
Step three: Get in the car and listen to your gut. Let your creativity drive.
Step four: Stop when your creativity says you’ve arrived.
Step five: Create.