In his essay, The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde says, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” In a (very small) nutshell, Wilde is saying that by experiencing art, artists are showing us new ways to look, feel, and interact with the world around us, with the assumption that experiencing art creates for us a better life experience. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that art imitates life. In his Poetics, Aristotle says, “it is a natural human impulse to make art that imitates the people, places, and events around them.”
As a music theorist and composer, I have faced this “chicken and egg” question almost my entire life. To compose music, we have to understand the works of the masters who have come before us. Yet, the ability to create something new and unique requires bringing something of ourselves, of our personal life and experience, to the table. When I teach young composers, most will come to me saying that they are inspired by a specific composer and want to learn to compose like him of her. My response to that is this: “You should study all that you can about the life and work of that person and then compose the piece that they did not have the opportunity to create; meaning, you have now been inspired by their work, which in turn influences you as a composer, but you can not help but to draw also on your own life experiences, which can not help but be reflected in your work as well.”
How you personally respond to this chicken “what is imitating what” regarding the relationship between life and art, the fact is that there exists truth in both scenarios; our lives and the art we make are intimately intertwined. This is true of composers and painters and writers…and each of us as photographers. This is how creative people live…every day.
What does it mean to be creative? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? A general definition of creativity with regard to art is “the use of the imagination or original ideas in the production of an artistic work.” A piece of art also must move beyond just being “imaginative” and have the capacity to evoke a cognitive response in those who experience it. This goes back to that notion of the life we live imitating the art that we have experienced. A creative photo is one that speaks to the viewer in a way that goes much deeper than appreciating its concrete subject. So, shooting a photo that is creative is harder than we might think. A photograph might be an exceptional photo technically, but lack creativity. Is that a value judgement on the photo or the photographer? No. It all comes down to your “why” when you snap that shutter. Are you trying to capture reality, which is the intention of many of us who have embarked on this photo a day project. Or, are you most concerned with producing “creative” images for the sake of making a “creative” photo? As is the case with most things, I suspect we all sit somewhere on the continuum between these two things. We want to take creative images of our everyday life.
Generally speaking, how can we nurture the creativity the resides within each of us? Here are a few suggestions:
- Surround yourself with creative people
- Read…a lot
- Listen to music, all kinds of music, even the genres you don’t think you like
- Experience the natural world. This does not mean that you have to travel afar. Your own yard or local park will do the trick.
- Engage in a creative endeavor other than photography…drawing, painting, writing, cake decorating, fiber arts…
- Don’t be afraid to venture outside of your comfort zone. Wonder, insecurity, even fear can ignite a creative spark
- Take care of your whole self - body, mind, and spirit
- Try to practice objectivity
- Embrace failure. We tend to learn and grow more from failure than we do from success
How might creativity manifest itself in daily photography? It may be as simple as photographing a familiar object in an unfamiliar or unexpected way. In terms of composition, this can be done by shooting from a different angle, using light and shadow to challenge the viewer’s eye, creating a macro image, or by including some kind of “dissonance” in the composition of your image. Technical aspects in a photo such as depth of field, motion blur and panning, and double exposure can also elevate the creative impact of a photo. Our own imagination is the only limit to expressing ourselves through a creative photo.
The most important thing to remember is that what we create must come from our hearts and minds. The poem, painting, or photograph that we make is merely an outward manifestation of what lies within.
You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.