The Shape of Creativity - More than a Block
Creative energy (creativity) comes and goes for Creatives, often in mysterious ways. Ideas and projects may be flowing one week and another week you may be spinning in circles or idle. You may even be so busy you don’t have time to even recognize it though. One thing Creatives all have in common though is inevitably, our friend the “Creative Block” shows up and says hi.
This blog is a journey through a recent one of mine and a few insights for others (myself) for the next time it happens.
Acknowledge & Accept
The very first and most important element of a creative block or rut or slump, is to recognize and realize it’s effecting you. With photography it’s easy to go through the motions at a location as a pretty landscape can cover up a creative block. A pretty location is a good photo, right? No, it’s not.
To me this is the first sign I’m feeling a bit of a slump is when I begin to document the full landscape and not put extra effort into creating from and with the landscape. I can recognize this in my own work and a deeper look is needed to understand the why.
Creative drive/energy or whatever you want to call it is not some external, unattached element separate from us. Quite the opposite actually, it is within us. Creative blocks are often formed by life events and situations. Think of the last major life event/change you had? Where was creativity during that time?
The cause of the block is unique to every individual. There are many outside forces at play for creativity such as peer influence, self expectations, mental health and more. They key is taking that step and having that conversation with yourself to figure out the cause(s).
Create to Create
To recap a little, Creative drive is a part of us which we can recognize as there or not. It’s a part of us and not separate. This means that we can also directly influence our Creative drive, nurturing it just as you would a garden.
One way to nurture this creative garden is through daily practice. While creativity isn’t external, it also NEVER will find you if you’re idle. The “A Ha Moment” comes from doing, moving and actively thinking. One simple way to practice this is to go for a photo walk, every day, not just when it’s nice, or you feel good but every day. Build it into your routine where you go walk for 1/2 hour with your phone or camera. The key word is EVERY DAY. You’ll find your creative drive linked directly to what you’re feeling in life. If you’re not feeling it on one day, go again the next day. Repeat.
Creativity may find you when idle but it will absolutely find you if you’re active.
Step Back to See and Feel
With Nature and Landscape Photography, our subjects will always be there when we’re ready. No rush. So another useful method to overcoming a creative block with photography is to go into the landscape without your camera. Go out but pay attention to the times you find yourself saying “I wish I had my camera for that.” Are they the moments you anticipated needing your camera? Were they unexpected? Going out without the ability to photograph is a good way to identify what you DO want to photograph.
Yet another way of overcoming a creative block is to find inspiration, somewhere. Maybe it’s movies, music, performances or anything else creative which will spark an idea for you. Go, be inspired by others and let that be fuel for your own work. But be patient:)
For myself, I find inspiration in Nature first but in Nature Photography of others as well. I will look at the work of others, even photography outside of landscape and nature for inspiration. I’m 1000% AGAINST the idea of not looking at other people work for inspiration. Why would you ever limit yourself and not want to see creativity in photography? The whole idea of “Photo Celibacy” is one I find arrogant, self-centered and completely ridiculous in the world of photography. If your ego is that fragile, perhaps photography (in the public domain) isn’t for you. Bottom line, look at the work of others. Learn, study, be inspired. (I’ll save my full thoughts on this ridiculous topic for another post or Instagram).
Shape and Rhythm of Creativity
Despite understanding Creativity is a part of us and can be nurtured, it still comes and goes at will. Some describe it with waves, some with blocks and paths, and I propose it’s a series of plateaus and mesas. The moments of “A Ha!” And creative ideas may be the step up to the plateau, a higher elevation than before. Unlike a mountain, the mesa is flat on top, equally as flat as the mesa you just stepped from. Creativity then begins to look like a series of steps with long, flat portions connecting them. Interestingly, it looks exactly like the landscape of Southern Utah…mesas.
Understanding this (at least for me) has been comforting in knowing it’s a series of steps and not one giant leap. It’s comforting to know there’s a long period of flat because this is where the work is done. It’s these mesa tops which we try so hard to reach but then must continue when we reach the mesa because it’s the same as below…work.
Maybe this is where we are active in finding inspiration, being inspired, finding what moves you to grab your camera, finding what’s holding you back. It’s on this mesa where we continue until that next step to another mesa shows up. Again, it only shows up when we are active.
My Way through Creative Blocks
Wrapping this up, I want to share my approach for getting through a creative block. My answer is 2 parts:
- I’m a BIG believer in allowing Nature to surprise and delight you. I spend 200+ days a year in Nature and I’ll say it again…allow Nature to surprise and delight you. Too often we go to Nature with expectations both from her and ourselves. Expectations are basically blinders so start with taking those off and dropping all expectations. This is incredibly difficult to do and so important to allowing Nature the chance to surprise us. So I go out with no expectations, eyes and mind open and ready when Nature says… “Watch this”.
- Find inspiration from a new source: One area of inspiration for me the last year or so has been in the sounds of birds. I find knowing and understanding a bit about the birds in an area helps me appreciate and see the landscape in a different way. For instance, I just discovered a Summer Tanager nearby that I’ve never seen before. I identified it with sound (thx Merlin) and knowing it was there yet hidden for years opened my mind to what else I hadn’t noticed. All from one bird.
- Experience Nature. It’s so easy to get caught in the mental trap of thinking you know a landscape when all you do is look at it. I’d also suggest experiencing Nature in a way, I refer to it as Participating and I even wrote a blog all bout the importance of Participation in landscape photography. Love a river? Go float down it. Love a mountain? Go climb it or fly over it. Love an area? Participate in an activity in the landscape and see it it opens your eyes to something you didn’t feel/notice before.
Creativity and Creative Drive are unique to every person but share commonalities. I don’t have the answers and neither do others, we all only have our own experiences. You don’t need to be a neuroscientist or understand the brain to understand creativity, but you do need to understand yourself. Creativity is within us. It’s just a matter of practicing, attitude, surrounding yourself with people who uplift and support you and ultimately, working until you’re on the next plateau.
I teach 5 different 1:1 workshops aimed directly at helping creatives with their Artistic Journey. I myself have to work at it EVERY DAY and go through periods of creative drought and floods. I designed these workshops because I know how it helps me and I’m positive I can help others learn and be inspired.
What’s one way you find helps get through a creative block?