Thursday, July 26, 2012

10 Ways To Be More Creative

Creativity, Break the rules

Years ago I took a class in food writing and was completely intimidated when the teacher rattled off what seemed to be a dozen ideas on a theme I was proposing. I had no idea how she did it and was completely sure I'd never be able forward to just recently when I did the same with a student who was sure there were no new ways to shoot reflections...

I think coming up with new ideas is a muscle and it's one that expands over time (I hope!). Over the past few years I've been reading extensively on creativity and here's a few of the methods that I've latched onto. 

1. Pretend you're a seven year old. Studies show that people were more creative when they imagined themselves as a kid - without that censuring adult voice inside their heads. Turn off your sense of what's appropriate.

2. Get Happy. Just being in a better frame of mind makes you more likely to find solutions to problems. So whether it's The Honeymooner's episode where Ralph tries to learn how to play golf in a week ("hello ball") or Denis Leary's rant on "coffee-flavored coffee" find something that makes you smile.

3. Don't get out of bed so fast. That early morning time when your brain seems so much more connected to the dream world can be a great period of creativity. Give yourself the time to just dream and wander. Think of it as guided daydreams.

4. Take a shower. Or do something else where you're completely relaxed and in your own thoughts. This could be meditation or even driving a route you've done a million times. I remember in Amadeus they showed Mozart rolling a ball while he wrote...distracting part of the brain.

5. Avoid groups. Brainstorming in a group is not the helpful activity it was thought to be in the 60's. Instead, use a little solitude. If you're like me, you want to be around people but don't want to interact, that's why coffee houses can be such a great place for creative thought.

6. Go to Bizarro World. This was the place in Superman comics where everything is the opposite. Sometimes this is a good approach for tackling a problem in a creative way. Look at its elements and flip each part 180.  A good approach used in 3d art-making is to literally rotate the object upside down - this allows you to see the relationships between elements from a different viewpoint. 

7. Pretend you meant to screw up. Yup, go with the screw up and see what happens. Whether it means you're printing with a different paper...using the wrong color blue...whatever happens...go with it. 

8. Give yourself some limits. One of the reasons that poetry uses rhyming or haiku is that these structures allow the brain to create in a more focused way. Narrowing the options allows you to use your energy more efficiently. 

9. Keep a voice recorder handy. Remember all those great ideas you had but never wrote down? Once your brain knows you're serious about having some new ideas, it's going to start providing keep a recorder handy.

10. Use your left eye. It's connected to your right brain which is the area that makes connections between obscure things. It sees the forest instead of the tree....of course this might not be a good idea if you're driving or crossing the street.

11. Give it all up.  If you have the stomach for a really radical approach. QUIT, GIVE UP. This is an all or nothing method...but occasionally, (Bob Dylan to name one) it has produced true genius.

Yup, that was 11 not 10...I figured I shouldn't be constricted to the rule of 10. Good go out and make something different!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kamikaze Night

This weekend I'll be participating in July 2012 Kamikaze, a series of one-night shows by thirty-one artists at PØST space in downtown Los Angeles.  I'm completely looking forward to it and have been determined to leave myself open to whatever might happen when I actually see the work up on the walls. I'll admit, it's been a bit of a bumpy process (see last week's post) but I think I've rediscovered something that's been missing in my art-making experience for quite a while.

One of the reasons people tend to wax lyrically over their art school days...or grad school days, is having that experience of creation for its own sake, followed by the ability to discuss it in a public environment. Currently, when I have an exhibition scheduled, it's on an established body of work that we've already decided is worthy of viewing by the public. Since it's photography,  I would have already sent it off to the framers ages ago...waiting until the absolute deadline and having my framer (thanks Alex!) look at me with a slightly exasperated air. But the bottom line is, in many gallery settings, it can become about marketing and not about making art.

This experience has been refreshing in so many ways because it's the antithesis of that. The exhibition is one it's up and then down in the same afternoon/evening. And while I'm having  a bit of the "everyone will think this is stupid" butterflies...the truth is the only folks willing to come down to East LA on a Saturday evening are friends and I doubt anyone will slice and dice me. 

What I've realized is that this has been an enormously rewarding experience because it has given me a chance to put my focus back into the art (plus it helps that I really work well with a deadline). These days being able to have the experience of trying something new and getting to explore it in a public setting just doesn't happen that much. We're all so concerned about marketing, social media, name it...the art-making tends to get a bit lost in the mix at times. 

Yup - I had a ton of ideas for the show, everything from turning it into a big darkroom and having people process their images to just hanging my ideas on the wall...who knows, I could still do that...but, the main benefit was being thrown back into an environment that allowed me to move forward as I focused my energies on just making something. How to apply this to everyday life? I think there's many ways this can be replicated - a big one that I'd like to explore is the idea of a co-operative that was dedicated to the creative jump - where a group of individuals found ways to push each other to go beyond what they might have done on their own...we'll see...

In terms of Saturday's show...I'm still working on it, so please show up and see what happened.

Saturday, July 21st, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
PØST, 1904 East Seventh Place, Los Angeles (quick note, it's a smaller street off of 7th Street, east of Alameda)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Misery, Beauty and the Creative Process

There's no denying it, I'm miserable...unhappy...grumpy...sneezy...oh, wait - no I haven't become the seven dwarves. Instead I'm doing something totally miserable, spending the morning trying to make sense of a new set of images (none of which are in this post). It's hard to decide if it's worse to not have any images you like, or to have fallen in love with several unrelated images - which then could become just another dead end.

Our mythology about the creative process includes all of the above experiences, but when you're going through them, understanding that doesn't really make it easier. I've got two images I really like...both completely unrelated to each other and I'm trying to figure out what they mean, what they can lead to, and where to go next. Making sense of our images becomes part of the process of figuring out the kinds of stories we want to tell. 

Part of the pressure is that I've got a show in a week - a small experimental space - and I've committed to really using the experience for the process of art - rather than just another marketing stint. I started with a strong idea - actually a word - resonance - one of those delightfully elastic words that roams around from science to spirituality. My connection to it was in reference to Beauty. Yup, I'm still trying to use beauty in my work.  I'd been reading a book my mother gave me, Creative Authenticity, 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision, and the first chapter is about searching for beauty.

"Art and beauty are about that inner resonance. It isn't the subject matter that holds us. Some inexplicable reaction stops us, and we find ourselves connected with something other than our self."

Beauty is like that great quote on pornography - we can't define it, but we know it when we see it. I want my work to have that quality, to become a space in which to rest, something quite removed from the rest of the world. On my living room wall I've got a painting by my mother which has that quality. The scene is simple, just a pathway in a rather wild, natural space. The brushstrokes are lose and a bit wild themselves, abstracted enough that I find myself just staring down that path and transfixed in a meditative state.

So, that's what I'm looking to create...meditative, transcendent, transportive moments. That's a lot of weight for one image to carry, but having the word to grasp onto is a great place to start.  The problem is that now, looking at these two images, I can't really figure out what is making them so good. Ironic? Yup!

Is it the subject matter?  Method of printing?  Perhaps it's the kiss of death to look so hard for meaning, for connection? One of the first mistakes I can say I'm making is trying too hard to have a result - the true irony here is that I found the images I love through experimentation and then the second I have success in that method, I switch to its polar opposite by trying to control everything...ssshhhish! 

I don't know...but I'd like just ONE more image that does it for me...NOW....

Perhaps it's unwise to bully my muse?

Ah, well...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Change and Being a Photographer

Tomorrow is my birthday...woohoo...but seriously, I'm wondering how I ended up all the way down this road. I was sure that by twenty-seven I would feel like a grown-up and have it all figured out. Yeah... Right... Hmmmmmm. 

I got into photography in a very strange way. It was at the University of Chicago, Billings Hospital. I'd been hired as a projectionist because Billings was a teaching hospital and they showed a lot of slides. It could often be pretty dry stuff - and occasionally, I'd hear "next ... next ... NEXT" because I'd dozed off to slumberland amidst slides of rare bone disease. Eventually, this grew boring and the only way to get a pay raise was to move to a different job - and the only opening was as a photographer. What a cool gig! I did everything from process film (E2 line) to photograph architecture. It was the first time I realized that you could have a job that wasn't boring - hell, it was completely different almost every day. 

Shortly after this job I ended up returning to school and studying photography. At that time, the process of becoming a good photographer involved studying with the best you could find, and then spending the next several decades perfecting those skills. Now, it's a much different gig, much more like surfing. You grab a wave and ride it for a while...then you've got to work to get back out to the next one, ride it in...and so on. It's not too bad for me, I really get bored quickly, and like learning new things. 

The question is often asked, what's next for photography? In some part, that's why I'm doing this blog, it's part of my search for new ways to define what I'm doing (and what I should be teaching). I think the biggest change is that we're not going to be narrow anymore. The new creature that calls themselves a photographer will be a "jack of many trades." They will have to embrace change, and spend more time looking forward than back. 

In my interview with Dan Shepherd, he mentioned an interesting quote on conservation. "Conservation is the process of managing change." There's more to it, of course, but I think it applies to photography as well. A big part of being a photographer used to be as a gatekeeper for technology - but  in many ways that was because being a photographer was about the camera. Our energies must shift and I believe photography is now about managing the changing visual world around us. Yes, this will involve integrating various technologies, but how we tell our stories, where we focus our energies - that will still remain our most important role. Consider it a given that the method in which those activities happen will change, and continue to change, so there's no point in worrying about it. 

On the wall in my studio I've taped up the last Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. They've woken up and found that it had snowed the previous night.  
Hobbes: "Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!
Calvin: "A New Year! A fresh clean start!
Hobbes: "It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!"
Calvin: "A day full of possibilities!"
Calvin: "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy...let's go exploring!"

Frankly, that's how I intend to experience this next year...let's go exploring!