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:
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.
Pretty straightforward and practical, but I sense somehow overlooked by most people..
Not only is painting nudes with a whore in a brothel something different and creative, it's also a bit of a political statement and social commentary.. love it!
I think you're conflating a bunch of different ideas here.
First, I don't think that just because you're a good painter it's easy to try and be creative. Under my little system here, being skilled may make it easier to experiment with different things, but without some framework for how to be creative, that skill alone isn't going to do you much good.
Second, I don't think talent is innate at all. K Anders Ericsson's study about what it takes to become an expert shed a lot of light on what it takes to become an expert. So, while a great painter might have had excellent fine motor skills or good spacial perception, these don't really make him a "talented" artist. A lot of hard work makes him a talented artist. My point is, you don't need to be talented in something you want to pursue. You just have to be passionate enough about it to stick with it until you stop sucking at it.
Third, in line with the second point, pick something you're interested in. Do that thing. If you get passionate about it, that's the area you should develop. If not, move on and try other things until you find something you could be passionate about. I'm sure there's areas of account management where you could inject some fresh ideas. Use the above post. If somehow there's no way to be creative in account management (doubtful), and account management pays the bills, then find that creative outlet someplace else.
If it wasn't clear from the article, I'm not actually saying Picasso used this technique at all. I never had the opportunity to meet the man, nor have I ever heard anything about his creative process, other than what I can intuit from some of his work (and that bull series is very cool, btw).
While this little method was my own invention, which I have found to be quite useful in my own pursuits, as have others I've shared it with, I'm certain that I'm not the first or only person to use this technique. In fact, if I was just the millionth person to discover it I'd be shocked, but I hadn't seen it written up like this, so I thought I'd share it. So, who knows, maybe Picasso did use it. But again, that's not really the point.
I'm glad Sebastian gave me the opportunity to share it here, and hope some of you guys can benefit from it. I've gotten a lot out of this blog, so it's nice to be able to give something back. Cheers, and feel free to get in touch if you want to share some thoughts.
Ok, I get this but one still needs to have a talent with something... if you have a gift of painting then it's easy to try and be a creative painter. What if you are an account manager let's say, how do you choose the area to develop your creativity?
I'd contend your post is about how to be different, not how to be creative. Yes, I can paint random things, looking at history, or whatever inspiration I like. Picasso had a view on surrealism.
The idea wasn't to put them as a group, but he needed there to exist multiple subjects in order to express something. The brothel was to draw the attention towards the closed nature of the world on which they exist. He started with the point, and refined it. He didn't think of random things to do in the painting, that's one 'thousand monkeys with one thousand typewriters', they're vehicles for something greater, the actual creativity.
I know what you're trying to say, that tinkering is important, and it is, but you picked a bad example in a subject that's a little out of your depth.
The best example of Picasso's creativity in action is probably Les 11 états successifs de la lithographie Le Taureau (1945)*, where he starts with a fairly standard sketch of a bull and then makes subsequest sketches more abstract as he goes looking for the essence fo the bull.
This is probably the best how-to-be-creative kind of post I've seen. Usually they're filled with stupid crap like "Go for a walk" or "Do yoga." It's impossible to NOT get creative results by doing what you said here. Nice job, man.
Great advice on deconstructing creativity -- alter something subtly in the essence of the matter to produce a new work of art. What's amazing is that this advice can be applied anywhere: in your daily routine, at work on a project, even when you're flirting through text. Here's an example of how tweaking a text message conversation can really build attraction, through creative, differentiated, unique thoughts:
A few of my friends - three friends, to be exact - mentioned to me that I write a heck of a lot on here and they're impressed. I have convinced the ultra-smart Sami Baqai to start blogging, and he just got the holy-shit-this-is-hard-I'm-overwhelmed feeling. Ah, yes, I have been there Sami. Perhaps I can share some thoughts.
First and foremost, I am a huge devotee of the Equal-Odds Rule. As far as I know, I'm the only person talking about it outside of academia. This Amazon review covers it pretty well:
The equal-odds rule says that the average publication of any particular scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other scientist's average publication. In other words, those scientists who create publications with the most impact, also create publications with the least impact, and when great publications that make a huge impact are created, it is just a result of "trying" enough times. This is an indication that chance plays a larger role in scientific creativity than previously theorized.
So I read that, and I'm like - whoa. You know Neo in the Matrix? Whoa.
If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of stuff.
[caption id="attachment_99" align="alignright" width="288"] Leonardo DaVinci, one of history's great Generalists created a little painting called "The Mona Lisa"[/caption]
Lebron James is a beloved individual (outside of Cleveland). He parties, he endorses stuff, and he certainly isn’t short on cash and why is this? Because he’s spectacularly good at one thing. The man is debatably one of the best basketball players of all time and it’s clearly paying dividends. Society is riddled with examples like this; individuals who excel above and beyond others at a single thing. We are also taught, frequently, that hard-work and studious effor in one particular endeavor will make us exceptional individuals.
But growing up, one of my favorite concepts was the “Renaissance Man”. While politically incorrect, the concept was that an admirable quality in a person was possession of… well… all admirable qualities. These individuals would study math, science, history, art, language, and politics, never mastering one but acquiring a deep and interested knowledge of all of them. In a society of specialists and specialized economies, this is a concept that, unfortunately, has fallen by the wayside.
But I’m here to carry its standard. A recent article on 99u entitled Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist noted the myriad benefits to scientific and creative professionals that stem from a broad range of knowledge. The understanding of many topics allows one to draw analogies in other topics, spurring creativity and innovation. Even on a personal level, the idea of being a Generalist is a powerful one. When you think of adjectives to describe yourself or a list of your favorite hobbies, do they all follow a streamlined career or interest path? No. You love many things and so do I.
So embrace that. Get curious and learn about everything that interests you. Do it patiently and with conviction and see the world the way it was meant to be seen: as a proud and sophisticated Renaissance person. You’ll be more interesting and more interested, see and learn things you never thought you would, and enrich your life. Wave your standard high brethren and tell the man where to shove it in two different languages, three different mediums, and with a well-written but emotionally subtle haiku.