Can the creativity of an image be assessed without knowledge of the image’s context?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by leslie_reid, Feb 5, 2017.

  1. The recent discussion of creativity on the interior/exterior thread showed that different people have different understandings of what “creativity” is, but that there is a general sense that people can recognize when they themselves are being particularly creative. It struck me that the level of creativity involved in producing an image might not be evident to others on viewing the image. To get a feel for what certifiably (from the point of view of the photographer) creative images look like, I’d like to invite each of you to post an example of a recent image that you felt you were being particularly creative while making and a description of when in the process the creativity was most strongly expressed. My example is one that is among the most creative I’ve made (showing up in the initial concept, figuring out how to compose the shot, and a bit in the solution of a post-processing issue), but I have no idea whether the level of creativity is perceptible to others. I’d much appreciate your take on that, too.
  2. Impossible to know if this shot was creative. I have discovered shots in my camera that I took my accident, such as when the shutter trips while I'm making an adjustment, or putting the camera away. Perhaps that's what this is? Equally, it may be the result of hours of planning, including hiking to the right spot when the light would be just right.
    On the other hand, any shot can be evaluated based on its qualities as a photograph, regardless of the context in which it was taken.
    To say it another way, without some explanation apart from the photograph, it's unknowable what, if anything, was in the photographer's mind.
  3. I find the range of what constitutes "creativity" to be both so broad and so deep as to defy definition. When one adds the issue of personal taste, a succinct definition becomes problematic. Yet I agree with Leslie that I know when my own work is more successful from a creative and artistic standpoint than is typical. This image of Turret Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, is a case in point. Creativity (and what I would call success) came in two parts. The first was when I recognized a unique perspective, one I might not otherwise recognize, when I stood nearly beneath the arch and looked up. "This is cool." went through my head, so I spent a few minutes, and some of my wife's forbearance, trying to capture the "cool". When processing the image, the next step of creativity came in experimenting to see find and apply a B&W treatment that made an otherwise uninteresting image much more engaging. The color photo had lost the "wow" factor of my first-person experience, but the B&W brought it back into focus.
    For me, some phototgraphs are whiz-bang right out of the camera, while others demand a much more engaged and complex process. My own measure of success is the degree to which the finished presentation elicits in others the same kind of feelings or interest that I experienced in the moment I captured the latent image. As Fred G will surely remind us, not everyone experiences an image the same as anyone else, and he will be right. Yet, my hope is to share my own experiences through the medium of photography, and I like to think I am occasionally successful.
  4. To respond more specifically to Leslie's question, I believe it aids in understanding when an image contains or creates a common point of understanding between the photographer and the viewer, from which the viewer's comprehension can then depart in exploring the balance of the image. A totally abstract image, without natural/human reference, can still be evaluated on raw form, balance, color, composition, contrast, texture, etc., but communication of an intentional meaning becomes more difficult (assuming such communication is intended). It may only take the smallest of shared perception to start the conversation, such as recognition of the serpent's body in one of Julie H's amazing compositions. The more context communicated, or commonality of perception shared by both the photographer and the viewer, the greater the likelihood of an image being understood as intended by artist. Yet, there are many images which are fascinating and engaging which do not contain an overt message or for which I do not have native empathy, yet this fact does not lessen their interest to me. While others, executed and presented with equal or greater skill and creativity, do not move me in the least, if for no other reason than that they are not to my taste, or engage subjects I find personally offensive. In the end, interpretation and appreciation of any photograph by a given viewer is likely at least as dependent upon what the viewer brings to the equation as the creative skill and artistry of the photographer.
  5. Discussing the process of the mind that drives creativity as referenced in the other thread is completely different and unrelated to having creativity seen in any works be it music, fine cuisine, sculpture, dance, acting, photos, etc.
    Creativity isn't suppose to show us how the sausage is made but how it makes us savor the flavor and texture as part of the experience of eating sausage, not whether we can see and appreciate creative intent that drove it to its finished state.
    Accidents do happen as David points out which adds another variable among many that conceals to the viewer whether it was created that way. Curatorial decision making involved in keeping or tossing a photo is a creative endeavor, but a photo not shown because it was tossed conceals a creative decision no one will ever know about. How does one see that creative intent? So I don't see how productive this discussion is going to be in bringing forth additional understanding of the creative process any more than just discussing how the photos presented make us feel.
    FYI but I can't see any creative intent in any of the photos posted here and that has nothing to do with whether I like them or not.
  6. An image has creativity?
  7. I have no trouble assessing the creativity shown in other's images. I don't need context or backstory to assess it. Context and backstory are often very important to me in deepening my understanding or experience of a photo or painting, etc. But those things are not necessary for me to see something as creative and they're often not even helpful. I can see something made with imagination and personal investment and that's what usually gives me the feeling that creativity was at play. I won't say "never" but I will say it's rare that someone's story about their work will make me think of their work as creative if I didn't already feel that way when seeing their work itself.
    Here's a photo of mine I think of as creative, not so much because of how I made it, though sharing how I made it could be of interest to some viewers. Because I feel it shows imagination, a sense of craft, and a degree of personal investment, I think it's creative. Mood and atmosphere, for me, also go a long way in showing creativity. (I'm not LIMITING creativity to these things. I'm saying THIS photo feels creative to me because of those things. Other photos will feel creative for other reasons. Creativity is a big tent.)
    As to communication and intention, those are often (though not always) rather non-specific to me. I get more specific in my documentary work. In photos like this, I deliberately placed Ian where he sits and moved him until his shadow worked for me and I deliberately processed the photo so his face would appear to glow almost disembodied out of the darkness. When processing, I was thinking of a mask. I wouldn't necessarily expect to communicate "mask" to a viewer. The "mask" inspiration is important to me but I wasn't specifically trying to communicate that. Specific inspirations don't need to get directly communicated. They just will express feeling.
    This photo wasn't about having a message I wanted to communicate as much as being inspired by how Ian and I together were feeling at the time and how I viewed him in relationship at the moment to the place we'd come upon. This felt like it was, in part, about Ian's particular face and character and what it could look like in a photo. Though inspired by how we were feeling, I don't think it's about how we were feeling. It was more about the eventual photo to me than about what I was seeing or feeling at the time. The scene didn't look so much like this in reality. I had in mind not so much that I was experiencing this or that in the moment but that I was making a photo that was going to appear this or that way. I think a lot of creative photos give more hints than knowledge, more feeling for something often untouchable or intangible than direct information about something.
  8. A photographer creatively makes a photograph unlike any he has made before.
    He likes it a lot, so he makes photographs of that kind for the rest of his life.
    His sons also like it very much so they make photographs of that kind for the rest of their lives.
    A viewer sees photos from all of the above with no backstory or context or labels. Does this viewer see 'creativity' in all of the pictures? In any of the pictures?
  9. God and nature create the scene. My contribution is "Yes!", and reach for the camera...
  10. A lightbulb turned on in my brain as I read the thread this morning. I’d started the thread thinking pretty much along the lines that Marc laid out: if creativity is an experiential attribute of the photographer, then how can a viewer assess what that experience was? Then I saw the photos that David and Fred posted, and realized that both were photos I’d seen before and had already classified in my mind as being highly creative. What clicked for me were David’s and Fred’s accounts of how the images came about—they pretty much mirrored my musings from several months ago of what I would have had to have done to make the images. Bottom line is that my original feeling about the level of creativity embodied by the images was based on my guesses about what my experience would have been were I to have been the one making the images. It wasn’t so much about “wow, I’ve never seen that before” (though that would apply to both these images), but more about “I would have been really stretching myself to have been able to see the potential of that setting (Fred's "seeing with imagination"), and I would have had to have solved these problems: ….” And that was possible because of our shared experience as photographers. Is there an implication that the ability to recognize a work as meaningfully creativity (as opposed to just "novel") is limited by the extent to which we can self-reflect our way into an understanding of what it took to make the image? I suspect that my assessments of what’s creative in wedding or sports photography would be very different than assessments from photographers with experience in those genres, though there would likely be a good consensus on which photos were strongest.
    [edited addition: the above was posted before I'd seen William’s photo, so it’s not mentioned here—but that “Yes!” moment that William refers to fits in well: it's our shared experiences as photographers that lets us celebrate with the photographer on seeing one of those "yes!" moments captured]
  11. Leslie, I'd say "no." I can assess the creativity of paintings and sculptures even though I've never made one. And lots of
    non-photographers can assess the creativity of photos they see. For me, it's about what the photo looks like, feels like,
    where it takes my imagination. I may consider how it was made or how I would have approached it myself but that's not
    usually my primary response to others' creativity. I want to experience their vision as much through their eyes as possible
    to take me on a journey. I will lose my own ego to whatever extent I can. Very often, the more I let go of "me" the more
    involved I can become with the photo or the art and/or the photographer or the artist.
  12. IMO, creative ideas sometimes come in a flash, while other times a well planned process stems from a creative idea and prolonged experimentation leads to a creative result. Here are two photos which I think are somewhat creative in light of my general body of work, but they resulted from very different situations and processes. Please note, my characterization of these images as creative is not independent of my memory of the context. You can first judge whether they can be called creative just by looking and then read the context given below.


    Photo 1 (Planned execution):
    Macro of a saucepan with oil droplets illuminated by ring light. I was experimenting with droplets lit by ring light for a while because I envisioned, the circular reflections of the ring light on the droplets would be intriguing. I took several shots and this one was chosen during post processing. At the time of shooting, it did not stand out from the rest, although the other shots were variations of the same theme.
    Photo 2 (spontaneous execution):
    I was not planning on including human elements here. I was simply shooting the architectural elements, but then somebody walked by and in a flash I got an idea. The night before, I was reading a comic book where the main character gets chased by giant letters in a nightmare. When I noticed a man walking by the giant alphabet, I got the idea of shooting a human figure disappearing behind the letter.
    Its possible that many will not find either of the works creative, but then creativity is to some extent subjective and depends on the overall body of a person's work as well as the time period and social context. A highly creative person may not find too many works creative, while a newbie may feel differently. In either case, the feelings of both are equally valid. In a tightly controlled conservative society, a modestly innovative work may be deemed highly creative, while the same work may be judged differently in a different period. I think, it doesn't mean that one work is less creative than the other. I think, any work that inspires someone and sparks his/her imagination can be deemed creative from that person's perspective.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
  13. [sorry about the formatting--the paragraph breaks keep disappearing, so I added a line of symbols instead] [written before I saw Supriyo's post]
    But if a viewer is recognizing creativity in a work from a genre that they don’t have some level of fluency in, are they evaluating the creativity that went into making the piece, or are they evaluating its uniqueness relative to their own past experiences with the art form? And how would they know that their perception of the creativity corresponds to the level of creativity actually involved in making the piece, from the point of view of the artist? Maybe there’s a useful distinction to be made between “perceived” and “intrinsic” creativity with respect to a work of art, where “perceived creativity” is the viewer’s assessment, bringing with it the viewer’s biases and experience, and “intrinsic creativity” is the artist’s assessment, bringing with it the artist’s biases and experience. We do keep running into the problem that different people have different working definitions of creativity. It helps my understanding a lot to be able to see what creativity means to David and Fred in the context of their own photos, and I’m still intrigued that my initial reading of why those photos seemed creative to me corresponded well to David’s and Fred’s accounts of the kinds of creativity involved—for me, the perceived and intrinsic creativities matched .............................................................................................................................................................................................

    I keep coming back to David’s discussion of “common points of understanding.” I’m wondering if the viewer’s perception of creativity in cases where perceived and intrinsic creativities match might have a lot to do with the connection between the artist and the viewer, with the viewer gaining a momentary glimpse of what the world feels like from the artist’s perspective by mirroring that perspective through analogy to their own experience. To me, that’s not inconsistent with Fred’s description of “los[ing] my own ego to whatever extent I can”—if I see someone looking sad, I can understand what they might be feeling because I know from my own experience what feeling sad feels like. If I didn’t have a personal experience with sadness, I could intellectualize their experience, but I couldn’t lose my ego enough to feel with them in their sadness. I’m wondering if through that empathetic connection in art, the viewer can vicariously experience the “yes!” moments and share the artist’s celebration of the creative process. Is that one reason we enjoy looking at other people’s art—to share their dopamine hit?

    And I need to fill in the context for the photo I posted. It is of exactly what the title says—a zygomatic arch (= cheek-bone), in this case attached to the skull of a porcupine, and it was photographed at sunset on my back deck. The creative moments came first when the idea of trying to turn the skull into a landscape popped in out of the blue as I was examining the skull; second, as I—again out of the blue—got an image in my mind of how a 1-inch-long cheek-bone might be persuaded to look like a sandstone arch; and again on and off during the day as I tried a variety of ways of setting up the composition (none of which worked, because bone tends to look an awful lot like bone). About mid-afternoon I got another bolt out of the blue, realizing that a sunset color-cast would disguise the bone, and that I could divert the viewer’s attention away from the bone itself and onto the light on the bone if I could get the sunlight to fall on it right. So I set up the skull on the deck railing, waited for sunset, and then made a series of photos from different angles. This one looked least like bone, though I figured the cranial sutures were a dead give-away (as if my planned title weren’t give-away enough). The final application of creativity came during post—I couldn’t figure out what wasn’t looking right, then realized that because I had shot upwards with a 135 mm lens at about a 45-degree angle, the gradient in sky color was all wrong for the near-horizon sky that was supposed to be there. So I added a gradient that lightened and warmed the bottom of the sky, erased the gradient from the bone, and there you have it.

    Is it a “good” photo? Probably not. But it was one of the most fun photos I’ve ever made, and it was fun because of the exhilaration that comes with spending the better part of a day surfing on successive waves of creativity. Has it been done before? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Would others recognize what was involved here? Probably not (though the title, sutures, and fact that the photo was posted in the “still life” category of the Critique Forum were pretty good clues)—and again, that’s not relevant to my own feelings about the image. This might be an image for which “perceived” and “intrinsic” creativity are destined never to match.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2017
  14. ... "viewer gaining a momentary glimpse of what the world feels like from the artist’s perspective by mirroring that perspective through analogy to their own experience." That's were we part ways. To me, creativity is exactly when you find strangeness, not commonality. There should not be any analogy to their own experience: it is the creativity that works to build a bridge that was not there before; that "grows" your mind to meet it.


    [Above, dots (see the way over on the right) or anything else aligned right will generate something like a paragraph break.]


    I think your exploration of the zygomatic arch is creative. It's in the bud, not done, but the way your mind is reaching, or that it is being drawn out of itself/yourself, is to me creative; drawn to meet it or exploring how to meet it. Circling and sniffing.
  15. FYI, unrealnature = Julie H
  16. Let me try one more way of saying what I think separates creativity from making or learning. Say you are a first-year college student and you are taking Calculus for the first time. It will all be new to you, your mind will grow to encompass all these new ideas, there will be much discovery and effort spent on getting yourself "into" Calculus. It will be gloriously satisfying when you are able to 'work' the operations no matter the variety of their shape and form. Why isn't that creativity? What is missing?


    It's not creativity, because you (as Calculus student, or photography student or photography artist who is always a student), don't have to invent the game. You don't have to ask what is this 'calculus' thing? What does it do? For what, How? When? Is it good for anything? In what way? How does it 'work'? To the calculus student the 'game' is assumed. You don't question what this calculus thing is. Once the 'game' of calculus was codified, future students of it weren't/aren't being creative when they work to learn and practice it.


    Likewise, when a photographer describes him or herself as just 'knowing' when to push the button, or having a clear sense of what needs or wants to be done with the content of a picture, without any sense of doubt or questioning, I strongly suspect that they are playing within the assumed game as it already exists. There is absolutely nothing wrong or lesser about that. When I said in the other thread that Weston wasn't particularly interested in creativity, that was not a put-down. Art and creativity only sometimes overlap.
  17. I'm afraind I disagree fundamentally with Sean's position. Just because another has already explored or defined one approach to a problem does not dictate that my own discovery and investigation of that approach cannot be creative, for me. My wife teaches at university and for her hundreds of students the facts and principles she teaches are frequently entirely new. She delights in watching them discover these principles in experimental settings, and in how the truly engaged students creatively explore and express these principles through their work. None of what these students do is new or groundbreaking scientifically, but it is new and frequently groundbreaking for them. So, my own creativity is challenged when I go out and try to see the world in a different way, to find opportunities for photographs I might not have recognized before. My participation in this site has helped me to see and recognize things in new ways. I feel creative when I apply new found knowledge, whether in seeing and capturing an image, or in processing and presenting that image for others to view. What I have done may be old hat for some (many) of you, or it may be inspiring and insightful to others. I think this speaks directly to Leslie's musings, and also to my position that the viewer's experience of a photograph must inherently be an amalgam of the viewer's own experience/knowledge and the artist's craft applied to that image.
  18. Julie not Sean.

    Was the correct or desirable answer or outcome defined by (created by) the student or was it defined by the pre-existing game?
  19. Sorry, Julie and features are bound to be awkward at first. I've removed my "Likes" to avoid further confusion.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
  20. All new human knowledge and inventions are defined by preexisting knowledge. Calculus was defined by previous concepts of algebra applied to the infinitesimal. Any idea or invention hardly comes out of the blue. It matters how one uses/arranges preexisting blocks to create a new idea or pattern that did not exist before.

    I remember, we had a student in our school who always used to score poorly in math tests, because he would come at the right solution, but using steps that threw the (not so smart) teacher into a tailspin. Why isn't that creativity?
    Arranging preexisting blocks, playing a preconceived game can be creative, as long as the player is not solely following the existing ways of arranging the blocks or confining himself within preexisting game strategies.
    Alternative, out of the box procedures for arriving at an old solution is great for creativity, because such lines of thinking often lead to new avenues.
    Lastly, we should not limit ourselves to defining creativity as it applies only to the end result. A method, or a way of presenting can also be equally creative, regardless of whether that leads to a new outcome or not.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
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