Care and feeding for a creative life

I can give no insights, I can offer no formulas. There are no promises here. What you get is what you get. But if you’re willing to take a gamble, I’ll bet on you. If you’re willing to put it out there, if you’re willing to fail, if you’re willing to let go of it all, thumb your nose at the world, and do it your way, I’ll believe in you. You may not find what you want, but you’ll find what you need. Want is easily known, but need is a thing that only reveals itself in retrospect.

Forget about the discussions of exposure and technique. Forget whether you use film or filter. Forget the mythologies, the notions of the perfect moment, a perfect exposure, or a perfect composition. Today’s perfect is tomorrow’s flawed. Forget whether you’re supposed to chimp or not, use a viewfinder or not, shoot one shot or many, or, really, anything else of the sort. A picture is more than that. It is the most personal of acts. It is a pulse surging through your body firing from the synapses of your brain into the crazy mess of the world outside. No set of rules can ever encapsulate everything you need to know to control this process. They are a start, but never a finish.

There is no right way or wrong. Even the legendary fail. In fact, quite often, more regularly and boldly than you or I ever will. There’s little to fear in failure. There’s much more to fear in inaction. Just do. Accept that perfection requires madness. Only you can find your madness. Do not let notions of the ideal sap the true power of the person you are. Do not run from the queasy, uneasy, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Steamroll it. Crush it with faith in the value of what you do and who you are.

But there’s no free ride. You have to earn that faith. Do the homework. Know your technique cold until you are a musician and the camera is your instrument. Until your reflexes are hardwired into your bones. Then nourish your mind. Fill it with the force of history and the present. There are hundreds – thousands – of ways to use a line, shadow, and curve. Know how they have been used, who has used them, and what makes them work. A picture is a performance. A choir singing in unison. You cannot borrow from this and take from that and expect that it will all work together. Too much photography is a diarrhea of technique haphazardly vomited onto the printed page. Great light and great expression do not a picture make. The right light for the right expression does.

Once you’ve done your homework, then you can know you will find the solution you need. Ignore the wash of uncertainty that passes through you when you face the unknown. Do not back off. You have to reach before you can stretch. You have to stretch before you can grow. Only in free fall do you find your wings. And, if you fall flat on your face? Get right back up. Do not let embarrassment and disappointment conquer you. It will not last. Failure only scars when you run. That’s where we find shame. When we face it, it becomes a badge of honor. A reminder of your own growth.

But if this all sounds too easy and too reductive, then know the deck is stacked against you. The universe has no interest in the plans you hatch. It is neither for you or against you, but it will put you down in the day-to-day busy-ness, the inertia of the status quo, and its demands on your existence.

Never settle into it. In each day that passes habits fossilize, motivations wane, and the lure of the good life gains traction over the meaningful one. Steel yourself. Believe in creativity, believe in discovery, believe in the value you bring to the world. Do not just move on. Live on. No amount of money and fun will serve as substitution. Fulfillment comes when you see the scope of your contribution to the world around you. Do what you need to survive. But do not make necessity and distraction gods to pray to.

And here is the final secret. Discovery only comes in small parts. It comes at inopportune moments in unexpected places. It will not pour out in the middle of things when the game is on and all hell is breaking loose. Ideas are born in the stew of the prepared mind, but they can, at best be teased out of the subconscious. Your mind is not a convenience store to be pillaged 24/7. Treat it with care. Treat yourself properly. Our spirits have their own care and feeding instructions. Ignore them at your own peril.

Living a creative life is not stylish white loft, it is not a coffee shop, a t-shirt, a mantra, or an identity. It comes in the act of baking every bit of cold, hard data into your body and soul, stirring it around, and letting it solidify. Only then do ideas make the journey from your subconscious to your conscious.

But creativity is more often a trickle than a flood. It emerges into consciousness as faint notes, whose volume barely exceeds the noise of daily living. If you listen for it, seize it, and grow it with dedication and belief, it will become powerful and strong. It can change cultures and move mountains. But it is just as easily drowned out. Crushed in the lattice of self-imposed rules designed for the orderly execution of mind-numbing desperation and infinite frustration.

Create a life of care and feeding. Lead a life that lets ideas form and a silence that lets them be heard. Properly fed, ideas will live with you the duration of your life. They will plant more seeds, build character, and define self. They are your lifeline. Let living be about discovery. Seek. Soar. Find.

A few things to grow your creativity
Take a walk
Listen to music
Drive somewhere for no reason
Watch the lights
Feel your body moving in space
Walk through a gallery
Read a treatise
Ask a question
Answer a question
Write out something about you
Write our something about your work
Write on paper
Take a day off
Sleep a full night
Stare at the ceiling
Wake up slowly
Think about color
Enjoy nature
Enjoy other people
Make words rhyme
Listen to the wind
Clear out time to do nothing
Look beyond photography
Find silence
Walk somewhere unfamiliar
Do one thing to make an idea tangible
Find different perspectives
Question rules
Get out of your office
Turn off your computer


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  1. says

    Congratulations Katie, Casey, and Rusty! Dottie is beautiful! Wishing you all the best with this newest member of your family. It is always good to have another female on your side Katie! Sue, Joerg, and Tim

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