The Power of What If…?
I’m reading an article right now on creativity; it’s from the December 2009 issue Psychology Today (as is the picture above). My wife, who loves me more than she fears being arrested, stole accidentally borrowed it from our chiropractor’s office so I could read it. I plan to return it. Probably. You should acquire a copy, though by more legal means.
It was the monkey with the camera that caught my eye, in part because I tend to think that some clients don’t want a creative person with vision and talent, they want a “monkey with a camera to do their bidding.” Anyways, that monkey with the Rolleiflex TLR is my new hero, but has nothing to do with the article or what I want to mention here. (But seriously, a chimp with a Rolleiflex? How cool is that! Now I know what I want for Christmas…)
The article is excellent, and one that photographers and anyone that works – or lives – in the creative arts, ought to consider. Creativity is not merely part of our skill set, it is the real estate upon which the rest of our skills rest. It’s why I got so excited about the Creative Mix conference here in Vancouver a couple weeks ago. We need to not only talk about our skills with cameras, optics, and lights, but our foundational asset: creativity. It’s something we ought to be nurturing above all other things – the ability to think and live creatively.
But that’s all much easier said than done, isn’t it? I mean, for the life of me I don’t think I could even come up with a working definition of the word “creative.” But here’s where I think I’ve settled in my thinking about it: creativity is the ability to see things in a new way, a way that combines existing things, viewpoints, elements, in a way that hasn’t been done, or in a way that uniquely solves a problem. It is, in short, the power of “What if…?”
“What if…?” has got me out of more jams and produced better work for me than any other question. Tell me to “think creatively” about something and I’m stumped, much like asking a comedian to “say something funny.” But give me the space to ask “what if…?” and I’m off to the races. It frees me to begin thinking in new ways and following mental rabbit trails until some new thing jumps out from behind a mental bush and yells “Surprise!”
We all wrestle with it. Some of us get stuck because we don’t have enough inputs feeding the “what if…?” Some of us censor ourselves too much. Some of us are afraid of the answer to the question. Whatever the block is, consider this your permission to tear it down. The stakes are too high not to. When’s the last time you did something wrong, shot with the wrong aperture, the wrong shutter speed, the wrong light ratio? Been a while? Do it! How long’s it been since you shot a portrait with the wrong lens? Sure, we take risks when it seems the only choice we have left, but forcing yourself to take those risks before you get to the end of your other good ideas, that’s often where the gold is.
I highly suggest you pick up the current (Dec/09) issue of Psychology Today and nurture the muse a little.
I’ll leave you with a couple ideas from the Editor’s Note in the same magazine. This is Kaja Perina’s short list of things to do to annihilate your creative spark. I think she used the word “extinguish.”
1. Know exactly what you’re doing before you start.
2. Be careful not to offend.
3. Get Permission.
4. Run it by everyone else first.
5. Criticize yourself at every step.
And here’s my addition to the list to bring it to an even ten…
6. Don’t try, don’t fail. Mistakes are always bad.
7. Dump all “bad ideas” as soon as you think of them.
8. Don’t ask questions.
9. Only read photography books and never read stuff that you might not agree with.
10. Always shoot with the “right lens” the “right settings” and the “right light.” Always. Rules are made for following.
For bonus points, get – and read – Hugh MacLeod’s Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity.Highly Recommended.