AJ Kessler is an extremely talented guy with lots of great insights on art, business, philosophy, and life. He's an excellent photographer, and he was kind enough to write a post on creativity for us. I'm pleased to bring it you. Here's AJ -
"I'm just not a creative person."
I hear that all the time. It's complete bullshit.
If you've never created something, or done something you'd describe as creative, you may lack awareness or curiosity (two conditions which are easily fixed with minimal effort), but that doesn't mean you're not creative.
Anyone can be creative. Even kids are creative, and kids don't know anything. That's the secret though: they're creative because they don't know anything. They don't know how things work and they don't know what the outcome is supposed to be. So they ask questions, they try things, they experiment, they break things. If the end result looks good to them, they're done.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.
- Pablo Picasso
Schmaltzy, maybe, but there's a lot of truth in that quote. We lose a lot of our creativity as we grow up because we get jaded. We learn one or two ways to make something work and then assume that's how things work. We stop looking for alternatives when we've got a good system in place. It's human nature. How many times were we told as students, "Don't reinvent the wheel!"? Reinventing the wheel is exactly why we think Picasso, or Da Vinci, or the Beatles, or Baryshnikov, or Bobby Fisher, or Steve Jobs, or Einstein, or Shakespeare are such creative geniuses! Blasphemy you say? Let's look at "my" method for becoming more creative and then see how one of these creative geniuses might have used it.
Step 1: Make a list of everything that's required to produce any given type of work. Seriously everything. Whatever field you want to be more creative in, pretend you're teaching a child how to create the typical piece of work in that field.
Step 2: Change the way one of the things on that list is done.
Step 3: Repeat Step 2 until you've created something a bit different.
That's it. Creativity in a nutshell.
Rubbish, you say? Lets look at how Picasso probably used my technique to change the art world forever.
Step One: The List
It's now the early 1900's and Pablo is trying to make something special. He decides to paint a nude. His list of the characteristics of typical nude paintings might look something like this:
- Classical or mythological subject (these were the only subjects that were generally permitted to be depicted nude, though this started to change in the 80 years before Picasso's birth)
- One or two nudes per work
- Natural setting (beach/meadow/garden) or religious setting (clouds/rapture).
- Visible background with a lot of open space/view.
- Idealized or romanticized style (no flaws, very flattering)
- Happy or pleasant mood (or violent/tragic mood for some old classic works)
- Straight-on perspective
- Mid or high vantage point
- Whole scene in focus (from foreground to background)
- Anatomically correct drawings (usually plump ladies)
- Lots of detail (in skin/clothing/shadows/accessories/background/etc)
- Wide range of colors in each work
- Continuous tone (not Pointillist/Impressionist/any other new technique)
- Landscape canvas orientation
- Fine brushwork/no indication of paint application
This list isn't terribly in depth or detailed, but it's a fine starting point, and you get the picture.
Step Two: Change something on the list
Picasso could start with anything, but he's practical, so he started at the top. "The typical nude was of a classical or mythological subject like Venus or David? Then how about I make this painting about a whore? Well, Goya did that 100 years ago, and Manet did it 40 years ago, but it's still not that common. Good start."
Step Three: Repeat Until You Get Something Different
"What else can I change? Well, what if I had a whole group of whores? And instead of a natural setting, it's in a brothel?"
Done. Already, that's creative. Nobody had ever painted subject matter like that for the fine art world. A work like that would turn the classical nude on her head, aligning it with the more recent realist movement to create a whole new message. All it took was two changes. Of course, Picasso was an iconoclast, so he didn't stop at just two changes. In fact, he changed nearly every item on that list, defining a period in his life and helping create the cubist movement, with his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon:
That's all there is to it. Obviously, the crux of creativity is being aware of what's going on, being able to deconstruct how something is made, break it down into its separate elements, and then being curious enough to see what happens when you change one of those elements. But that's fantastic news! That's something that's very easy to learn, and something that beginners in almost every field are well enough equipped to be able to do.
So, there's no excuse to not be creative. Your only choices are oblivious or boring.
Read more about making art and living life over at A.J. Kessler's Blog.
AJ's got tons of good insights. I'd recommend his site if you like this one. He writes on the same sort of things with lots of value to it. Thanks, AJ.