Art, Creativity, and Me

From the get-go, by the title alone, this is a very introspective and selfish piece of writing. For that, despite the personal nature of this website, I apologize.

I’ve been trying to sort out my thoughts on creative processes for some time now, and I’ve particularly attempted to reconcile my perceived creative impotence with the strong creative urges I feel. Well I can tell you now that I still haven’t sorted out said thoughts, but I figured starting some writing on the topic would be as good a springboard as any to get some of these ideas out of my head. At least after this I can look back on what I wrote and start to filter through that which sounds inane, unclear, or nonsensical and refine my understanding. Here I go, diving right in.

From my earliest memories (hinted at in some earlier posts, no doubt) there’s been this great struggle in my mind between the left and right brain, the creative and the academic. By the age of four I was building Lego objects, and identifying dinosaurs by their right names at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. As I continued through childhood I could just as likely be found drawing aircraft and cartoons as watching Mr. Wizard. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of high school that I felt I might need to choose between the two sides of my personality (an errant notion, to be sure, but what I thought none-the-less). I figured I could keep my creative inclinations as hobbies while I pursued more “practical” roads in the sciences, so by my junior year I decided engineering was where I was headed.

From the start, though, I stuck with right-brained activities in college. I may have abandoned drawing at this point, but I still played guitar and had recently discovered an affinity for singing. Though I changed majors to information systems halfway through school, I kept playing music, and my introduction to Valerie (before she was Mrs. Warshaw) also opened my eyes to the beauty of architecture, design, handcraft, modern art, and so much of the visual spectrum I’d missed out on. By the time I’d graduated and entered the work force, a great deal of my attention was absorbed by the products of artistic expression, be it theater, painting, music, or furniture design.

But something still felt like it was missing…

You see, participating in artistic pursuits doesn’t equal creativity. The ability to play the guitar is not the same as the ability to write music forthe guitar. Appreciation for photography is not the same as having an eye for visual composition. Now a new layer of complexity had come into focus for my artistic frustration. I not only wanted to be immersed in the world of creativity; I wanted to create.

The problem is, as I see it, my lack of real creative ability – at least so far. My attempts to realize songs or lyrics failed miserably in the form of cheesy rhyme schemes and trite chord progressions. My feeble adventures trying to return to pencil drawing did little more than to remind me of the chasm that separated my skill from real talent. Now I play at photography, but I have yet to see how that plays out. We’ll see. I still haven’t taken any pictures that mean anything. Most of my work to date may as well be snap shots taken with a quality lens.

All of this makes me wonder what it is that develops into expressive ability within artists of various types. Is it poverty? Hardship? Mental instability? I’ve had a pretty easy life, so perhaps…No, certainly it’s no list of causes so simple, but it’s tempting for me to associate artistic greatness with suffering or heartache.

The funny thing to me is how this post itself serves as evidence to my point. You see, I’d intended to somehow connect my creative tendency with my history and my experience of certain art forms, but instead I’ve spent half the writing on my formative years and self-consciously abbreviated the real crux of what I wanted to say. At least I can say that prose was never one of those creative pursuits which I, well, pursued.

Anyway, I’ve written over 700 words already – far longer than my average post – so I’m sure many of my readers have lost interest by now. At any rate, I’ll never give up my search for real artistic experience, and if I’m lucky, some of it may be my own.

7 thoughts on “Art, Creativity, and Me

  1. If this encourages you at all, I really think you have a natural talent for photography. I always love looking at your pictures, whether or not they mean anything to you:)

  2. Dan! Thanks for writing about this, it wasn’t boring at all. This topic is one of my favorites, or at least is something I think about and wrestle with in my own life.I hope you keep at it, keep exploring, keep creating, etc. It might seem to you like you aren’t getting anywhere, or that many of your attempts have been futile, but I don’t think that is true. I think by trying and by opening new doors you’ve come farther than you think. This is kind of old news, and not very techno-oriented, but I think The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is an excellent book, and it really forces you to tangibly get involved in struggling through your own creativity instead of just abstractly think about art and other people’s thoughts about creating.Another one I read a long time ago and liked was called Art and Fear but I can’t remember who it’s by. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and I think you are/are turning into a really solid photographer.And I think Valerie is cool and wish that she had a blog, too. And yes, I am getting married in a few weeks – crazy!

  3. Heck ya Alexis…congrats…about time some guy realized how dang cool you are.Oh and Dan…I think you need to let go of having an artistic goal and just enjoy it. I think if you’re shooting for some asthetic or to be “cutting edge” you miss the point…which is first and foremost to develop in your own way, your own art. I think you have a naturally good eye. And there is much to be said for developing skill. But do it for the glory of it. One of the greatest things about art is that it serves no “practical” purpose. I’m having a great time learning a bit with you…and I think your hunger for the technical learning process is helpful to me, who is perhaps a to much on the side of “instinct”.

  4. Work. Work is what it takes. It doesn’t mean it will always feel like work, but it is work nonetheless, in that you have to keep chipping away at something. To work like this, you have to love doing something, and that love has to be independent of the outcome. You may hate what you come up with (rightly or wrongly), but you have to love the pursuit enough to keep trying.You say that your pictures don’t mean anything. I say that’s your fault, either because your assessment is correct or because your perception is wrong, or maybe both combined. At least for some of your images, I’d argue that it’s because of your perception. I’m not the only one that finds some of your stuff quite interesting and maybe even meaningful, but that, unfortunately, doesn’t do anything for your problem. If you continue to look at your creative pursuits as potential paths of creative failure, then they will all fail. A lot of people say that not fearing failure is the way that innovators and artists make their biggest impacts, but I would argue that it’s a *redefinition* of failure that makes it so. Allow your work, and the creation of it, to teach you something about the world you’re observing, and stop being so critical about what you think it teaches you about yourself.

  5. Thanks everybody for the kind words, and advice and such.But oi! Now I feel even more self-conscious. It’s perhaps hard to believe that I wrote this without a desire for support and affirmation, but I really didn’t, so now I feel a little guilty, as if I was fishing for compliments.RE: Work.Mugs, you’re absolutely right, and your comment reminded me of the one major bullet point I forgot to include – an address of my laziness. I’m painfully aware of this trait, and I’ve seen it stymie hobbies and pursuits in the past. That being said, it’s also the reason I’m most excited about photography; I’ve consistently put more effort into this avenue than any other – at least in my perception.And while, Elizabeth, I appreciate the compliments about me as a photographer, I know I have a lot more work ahead. That’s why I fully intend to take another class in the spring, and study technique and the work of professionals.Time will tell.

  6. I have enjoyed watching you explore your creative side. It seems like whatever you get into, photography, blogging, music, programming, you always go into it head on at least for awhile. At heart, I think you are a researcher. I loved doing photography, and did much of this in high school, but have a lot less knowledge of certain photography things than you, mainly due to the fact that I have not dug deep into all the technical aspects of photography. Having majored in Interior Design and have done one of the more practical creative fields, I have had a lot of exposure to many different types of artistic expression. I think it’s good to be exposed to all these different forms (furniture making, drawing, painting, jewelry making, architecture, etc.). But I agree with what other people said to get good at something you have to work at it. There has to be an investment. You have to make a decision which way you want to go. I feel you have made that investment with photography. I would encourage taking more photography classes, especially classes that emphasize what’s in the picture rather than just how to take a picture. Some of the people that you compare yourself with have had years of practice and experience so don’t be so hard on yourself. And like all creative fields, doing it as a hobby and doing it as a profession are two very different things, especially for those of us in the practical arts. While I get to be creative sometimes at work, there are a lot of other things that I have to do to make the vision happen that actually take up more time (construction documents, specifications, coordination with clients and vendors). When you factor a client into a situation that can also change the overall creative vision too.I feel like I’ve rambled too long. So there you go. There are my two cents.

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