There’s an interesting video series on Vimeo titled “Everything is a Remix.” Give it a watch.
Among other topics, the series challenges the notion that creativity is some mysterious ability that some people are born with, and some people aren’t. Rather, creativity is a skill, just like logic. Exercise it, and you’ll get better at it.
It also challenges the idea of originality, proposing the following creative processes: copying, transforming, and combining. Notice, there’s no “creation” in there. In a society where copyright and intellectual property is a huge source of pride and monetary incentive, this obviously poses some problems, especially if one adopts a “slippery slope” approach to the problem. Where do you draw the line between reasonable modification and plagiarism?
There’s a few other pieces to the creativity puzzle, though. Now, I’m not what I’d consider a creative guy – to the contrary, I’m usually logical to a fault, and whenever a portrait subject asks for something “really creative” I start sweating, because I know they’re looking for something much crazier than I can give.
But after working at photography for the past three years, working on the school paper, and recently getting into web design, I’ve started discovering a common development through each of the disciplines. It usually goes something like this:
- I start out, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I spend all my time reading up on the subject and looking at other people’s work.
- After a couple weeks, I feel confident enough to take the plunge and start making some work of my own. The first few attempts are, inevitably, dismal. However, this is a period of much more rapid learning than the time I spend reading – once I’ve got a gist of the basics, practice ingrains them and makes them natural.
- Depending on the complexity of the subject, I reach a point where I feel “fluent” in the language of that creative discipline. This is the point where the technical details stop becoming a point of worry – so in photography, for example, I no longer worry about the details of exposure, but set my camera without thinking, almost as if I became fluent in the language of photography (or more appropriately in this case, the camera).
- There’s also a degree of “saturation” – exposure to samples of other work in the same field. If you’re a photographer, this is how many photos you look at a day. If you’re a web designer, it’s how many sites you look at a day. A programmer, how much code you read. Seeing the work of others helps keep various ideas and techniques fresh in the mind and ready for application.
In retrospect, this process stands not just for creative processes but any learning endeavor – it happens in math classes and in programming classes, which most people would say are logical activities, although they also seem to me to require a type of creativity. Creativity, at its core, is the activity of solving a problem in a novel way – which is exactly what much of math is.
The point is
Creativity doesn’t come out of nowhere. Creativity requires fluency in the tools of the medium. Once you understand the tools and techniques available, you’re free to combine them and use them in novel ways.
There’s a lot more to this (check out this article to read about the impact of focus and endurance on creativity, for example) but the point I wanted to make here was that creativity isn’t a fixed quality that you’re born with – like most other traits, it can be nurtured and grown with a bit of elbow grease.
So don’t sit and complain that you don’t have any ideas – practice your craft and look at as many examples as you can, and “creativity” will come.