Can one learn to be a creative photographer?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Landrum Kelly, Apr 16, 2017.

  1. The more general question might be, "Can one learn to be creative?"

    I ask the question because, although I have become reasonably proficient with regard to technical photographic skills, I do not consider myself to be a particularly creative photographer. If I am ever going to advance to a higher level in terms of producing anything of true artistic merit in photography, then I shall have to learn to become more creative.

    I wonder if that might be possible.

  2. 'Artistic merit' and being creative seem to me to be secondary characteristics of some original drive.

    First ... :

    "Mostly, the job of making things comes down to why -- a very personal why that will never be completely understood, but surges through you, making you itchy and curious and nervous and wildly overconfident. You can feel it right now as you read this, humming in your chest, curling in your thighs." — Miranda July

    Are you itchy?
    dimitri_kalakanis|3 likes this.
  3. We tend to think of learning in rather academic terms, which may not always be the best way of advancing creatively. Of course, being able to learn is important. But I'd consider the importance of becoming passionate about the photos one takes, becoming intimate in one's approach to the subject of the photo, I'd think in terms of taking emotional risks, not always relying on what one's already defined success to look like. Creative people tend often not to let their present taste rule them but rather display a willingness to expand or even radically alter their tastes. One can learn to be a better photographer but I think one senses and feels one's way to creativity. It's often as much a state of letting go (of old habits, self-imposed rules, certain hang ups and predetermined categories) as it is of absorbing information, knowledge, or know-how.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  4. One can learn to be a better photographer but I think one senses and feels one's way to creativity. It's often as much a state of letting go (of old habits, self-imposed rules, certain hang ups and predetermined categories) as it is of absorbing information, knowledge, or know-how.
    I like that, Fred. Something has to impel one to do something at least a bit out of the ordinary. What could that be if not some kind of emotion?

    Perhaps Julie's itchy feelings and "curling [in your] thighs" might just be the thing--if I can figure out what "curling [in your] thighs" means.

  5. I would be proud to have a portfolio that shows as much creativity as that of Phil S. I wonder how one gets from here to there (or at least to some place better than where one is).

  6. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    All sorts of things are 'creative.' But creative does not directly imply artistic or interesting... :rolleyes:

    I can take any ordinary, crappy photo and apply a filter or two and call it creative. Finger painting by toddlers is creative too. Just about every phone camera and social media site has some sort of rubbish that one can apply to be creative. So, what is it we are exactly talking about here? Is it just applying ones will on a photo, lump of clay, or anything else--or is there some point that the selection of the image or a context for the materials transcends the artificially mundane and becomes something else? And that something else speaks to both the intent of the artist and the emotions of the viewer? Or are we toddler painting?

    Frankly, I think that artistic creativity and vision are innate to the individual. Some people have a finer and more robust sense than others--some have little to none. My reckoning is that it is just like musical ability. Many people cannot carry a tune in a bucket, nor will ever learn how to play a musical instrument. It is just not in their programming--and this is not something that can be improved unless a native ability exists that can be nurtured and developed.

    One has to be able to "see" as a photographer. Many people take pictures. Decades of doing so only yield several remarkable images--made more through serendipity than intent. Others show a latent skill--but never are placed in a mindset or environment that develops this. At the opposite end, there are those that are sheerly brilliant--and their raw creativity, artistic flow, and ability to present are stunning.

    Just my opinion, one might learn to be a better photographer. One might even amaze their family and friends--but not much more. Others can see the world and interpret it creatively. A set of those individuals are amazing. I can't draw or paint. I have tried with great effort and assistance for 55 years. As the saying goes, you can't teach a pig to sing. But I can see a few things, and in my own way try to capture that and express it 'creatively.' What others see in this still remains to be fathomed out--but a number of people have been deranged enough to buy some of it. Then I see some of the work here and in other places and think just how low on the totem pole my work is... :confused:

  7. Okay, okay, I knew you'd like that part ...

    But seriously, to me, what she's getting at is that creativity is felt before it's thought. The body is the pitcher; the mind is the batter. Luckily, you get more than three strikes.
  8. SCL


    While I think "creativity" is often a part of one's growing up, related to curiosity, and innate development, I recognize that many individuals can actually learn "creativity" by exposure to works of the masters, especially if taught by a master or master interpreter. I know that I learned a lot about creative uses of light and shadow, composition, and unusual takes on it, from an art historian many years ago. It helped me visualize things differently...not that it always shows in my photography. IMHO there are times and places for photographic "creativity" where it really shines, and others where it totally escapes me...either in practice or in interpretation of others' work. So to answer your inquiry, some people are better at learning "creativity" and others can never learn it...their brains are wired to process information differently.
  9. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I believe it is both nature and nurture. Growing up in a family that is creative in various arts, seeing behaviors modeled along with outcomes. Exposure to the arts from an early age, galleries, museums, concerts, theater. Living artfully, surrounded by modest works of art. Being encouraged and having the confidence to teach yourself and move forward as well as being schooled in techniques. All contribute. That said, one man's creativity may not resonate with others. Call it as you see it!
  10. My architecture school professors would argue this one to death. Based on a lifetime of academic and professional creative problem solving, I feel confident in suggesting there are myriad means, paths, and methods of creativity. I spent 12 years in architecture school trying to learn one set of creative tools, only to discover an entirely different, but more innate set within myself. I'll never be confused with FfLW, but I have an established and respectable body of work in my own right, and within what has become my own area of creative expertise. Others find their own paths, and the passions that drive them distinctly from what drives others. Perhaps the best advice, as suggested by others, is to discover one's own passion in one's chosen art, and then to pursue it vigorously, until 1: the technical requirements become second nature,and 2: technical prowess frees one to discover and explore new possibilities. It is unlikely any one of us will ever create something perfectly and entirely new. What we may achieve is to discover new horizons within ourselves, and in doing so express ourselves more completely or uniquely than we have done before, and therefore as differently from others as what we see and feel is unique to ourselves.
  11. David makes an important point. Also likely is that few if any of us will be as "great" as some others. Which is why I think it's important to be inspired by the work of photographers I admire without necessarily comparing myself to them, to delight in others' photos without either fawning over any one individual or even any bunch of them as my hero(s) or seeing myself as never being able to achieve what they have. Fame is overrated and I'm happy to reach a relatively small audience. It's more important for me to make something authentic than something new, more important for me to look for and see in a way that draws as genuinely as I can from both my personal and my shared experience and thinking than to be "liked" or considered creative or even an artist. An artist doesn't become an artist by fitting into a given definition of "artist."
    PapaTango likes this.
  12. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    Fred, you make some very important points here. But 'creative' does not mean or imply anything 'new' in the context of offering a radical departure from the mien. Sculpture particularly makes the example. Consider two radically different approaches to sculpture--say Rodin and Michelangelo. We see a difference due to VISION, technique, and application of physical/artistic skills. Many artists can emulate the form, others can choose another representational vision. And the bulk of the population struggles with making a PlayDoh figurine not appear to be a psychotic Mr. Potato Head blob. If you have ever known people who got caught up in the ceramics hobby, the truth between desire and outcome becomes quickly apparent. Some people are simply not artistic--and this cannot be 'installed' like an upgrade to a computer.

    David, I too spent far too much time imprisoned in a College of Design as both student and faculty. The fact was that those who lacked the basic innate abilities to function as an architectural student were eliminated early on in the admission process. Even the Wilbur Post's of architectural design managed to muddle through--as they possessed the skill and cognitive abilities that could be nurtured into a productive state and development into a professional. There is a niche for almost everything--the Kahn's, Mies's, Johnsons, and Richardson's are few and far between...
    DavidTriplett and sjmurray like this.
  13. I think to be human involves some capacity to be creative, and some people are just genetically loaded for creativity more that others. I believe one can develop their creative capacity with learning and practice to a degree.
  14. I think you can learn to be a creative photographer, but there needs to be something in the process that stimulates you enough to take an idea and explore and learn and feed off of that exploration. Like many great painters have periodic epics. Look at Picasso, a blue period, a cubist period creative epochs where he followed immersed himself in and developed. In other words, I think maybe asking and trying to answer Lanny's original question directly would probably point to the wrong direction. I think creativity comes out of finding something that so interests you are compelled to immerse yourself in it and follow the path to where it leads you. Focusing on that, will develop your creativity. So to me its not so much on how to make a good picture or an interesting picture. Its about how to be open to finding a challenge and follow it.
  15. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    I completely agree. I spent the last five years photographing mainly people in Asia. In Morocco , where I currently am, people are less open to portaiture so I had to try something else (birds, cats, landscapes) and have thoroughly enjoyed it and have been far more creative than before.
  16. As a short answer to the original question: yes, I think one can learn it, but the road may not be as linear as learning math or a language.

    What I see quite a lot (and what I most certainly went through myself) is that in the initial phases of becoming attracted to photography, many manage to take photos that bear a personal touch and as such touches of creativity and a sense of originality (yes, I know it won't be really original, but it breathes a fresh air). Which encourages to go deeper into it.
    So, then we start to learn to improve technique. And in the first period, focussing on getting things right technically gets seriously in the way of the personal expression. In a sense, photos do get worse, even if they're executed better. As time marches on, the technicalities become second nature, and it becomes easier again to focus more on the final image (in terms of composition, content and communication). So, in my view and limited experience, getting to a sufficient technical levels helps to freely work on expressing oneself, and execute that idea well enough. Freeing up the mind to see a potential image, rather than a series of decisions about aperture, shutterspeed etc.

    The speed with which one learns and the ease with which one picks up these things, you might call that talent or "having an eye for it". But pushing it out to photos that really manage to communicate a personal idea or show a view on things that most would overlook, that also takes curiosity, a will to experiment, and thought about what you want to do and how (emotional involvement may work, but so can detached and distant - as long as it is consistent), and hence an idea and vision on the subject you're working on. I see attributes like this as keys to creativity, and as the reasons why most of us are mediocre and some great. But none of them I see as things one cannot get accustomed to and where one cannot push oneself - and so, learn - but it's more down to comfortzones, how your curiosity has been nurtured gorwing up, and whether you feel encouraged or are encouraged to push boundaries.

    So, much like Fred said in his first post, I think one senses his own way there; but I do feel one has to cross some bridges first in order to have the confidence that you can actually execute your ideas.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  17. "Once there was a man who wanted to be an artist. He was good enough. That is, somebody could set up a still life of a bottle, some apples, a plaster figure, and some drapery, and he could reproduce it faithfully. And he could sculpt the human figure with skill. But he felt uneasy, for his art always looked like the art of other artists. The problem was that he had no idea of his own.​

    "He decided that if art couldn't be his, he would steal it. He picked out a piece of sculpture on public view in a park. One night he drilled a hole in the sculpture and filled the hole with another substance. Night after night he did this. He would drill one hole and replace the material with another substance. Then one night he drilled the last hole and filled it up. He had slowly, over a year, stolen the sculpture bit by bit. He had stolen art.​

    "Moral: Art is not in things; it is in the air." — John Baldessari, 1971
  18. Wouter, this seems likely to me, too. But I think it's a matter of learning technique and not creativity. I'm still not sure one "learns" to freely express themselves, even though one may learn enough technique to make technique second nature. I think once one taps into their creativity, one can hone it and even "practice" it.

    I also think, for many, applying themselves to technique can be done creatively. One can use the learning of f-stops and shutter speeds as a creative endeavor. I liken that to practicing scales on the piano. Sometimes I did it almost mindlessly, training my fingers to let go so they could glide over the keys like rushing water. But sometimes, I actually put a sort of unique and specialized expression into my scales that I think was a more creative endeavor. Having just walked through an exhibition of modern art at the Guggenheim, I'm struck by how often I felt a marriage of technique and creativity, not where technique was just used as a stepping stone to creativity but where technique often seemed like a significant part of the inspiration. Even the type of paint chosen (oil, acrylic) often seemed symbiotic to the various genres and content.

    Perhaps creativity is a kind of holistic/organic approach to one's life and productions where every aspect has the potential to inspire and be included in what is eventually made. If human creativity is not starting from a blank slate, which I don't believe it is, it might just be the bringing together or synthesis of a bunch of things into an emotive and comprehensible whole (comprehensible at least in terms of an internal coherence). In that sense, the creator makes a greater (or lesser!) whole out of a sum, difference, product, or quotient of a variety of parts where creativity isn't one of those parts, separable from the others, but rather the action one performs in combining them.
  19. Very good points indeed, Fred; technique and creativity are not an either/or, or opposing forces and I think it's correct to say my post made it seem that way. What I hoped to say is just that a level of experience and practical/technical knowledge is required to make ideas work (be it for playing music, making photos or writing poems). Whether that is learning to be creative is indeed not said per se, though it is a stepping stone.

    But then, you last paragraph is - in my view - about the best description I read in a long time. Nothing to add to that :)

  20. Lannie, why do you think that's true? Creativity is not necessarily the defining ingredient of art. Look for it in this description of art-learning from the Raqs Media Collective in India:

    "All of you came to art school for different reasons: some because you thought it would be easy, others because you thought it would be hard. Some of you came to tell stories, others to grow into yourselves; some of you came to escape where you were from, others to find your way back. Some of you left a big city; others ran away from a small town. Some of you have been scarred in the skirmishes of everyday life. Some of you fought in distant wars. Some among you know how to fix broken things or broken ideas. Some of you are inventors, some are magicians, and others are navigators, adventurers, poets and tradesmen. Some of you are visionaries.​

    "All of you have stories to tell and pictures to show. And even if some of you eventually abandon art, you will still have those. That is what really matters. And perhaps some of you might become philosophers or shamans, because art taught you to think, again, almost by accident.​

    "Each time that we have met, you and us, an unknown has reared its head in conversation between us, catching us unawares as it did. We have all experienced one thing; all of us have had to come face-to-face with an unfinished education. We who did not go to art school, and you who are in art school. Each of us comes face to face with the incomplete artist in ourselves. All the time."​

    [ ... ]​

    "The reason why so many of us have found refuge in art is because, as artists, we can open ourselves to things, acts and possibilities; we can think about many things, and make art about many things — whether the enigma of prime numbers or the details of aluminum extraction or prosodic schemes in Sanskrit poetry or the sexual life of snails or the history of anarchism in Spain. Finding a language between the storms raging in the world and in life, and the apparent stillness that goes into the making of art, is what we have always tried to find for ourselves, even as we have tried to think it with you."​

    Add to that, this from Thomas Lawson, about childhood bus rides with his granny, to see art:

    "To get to the museum, we had to take a bus ride from the south side of the city [in Glasgow] through some troubled and desperate areas. Even then, I was struck by the contrast between the dark, depressing streets, the lack of hope or vision they embodied and the rich, imaginative space that the museum opened up. I'm still committed to finding and keeping the liberation that the space of art offers as a way of putting the rest in some kind of perspective."​

    There are many reasons for making art besides 'creativity.'

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