I made this photogram on February 13th, 2019. As I look at it I think about the Diane Arbus Quote, “A photograph is a secret about a secret” and how each of us contains greatness that is often hidden. I think the camera penetrates the subject and draws out greatness.
Often creative artists are perceived to have some secret talent that is unattainable for the rest of us. When looking at my student’s work I have often expressed to them that I felt that they had more talent in their pinky than I have in my hold body. It is a compliment and it is also an admission of my own challenges I have faced to achieve any measure of creativity in my work.
After years of recognizing the talent’s in others with admiration, I decided to embark on a deep dive into the mental processes of artist that in order to identify a path towards learning how to be creative.
From my research I have become convinced that creativity is a skill that can be learned. The way we learn to become creative is by applying the various levels of cognition that lead towards creativity.
When we look at the levels of cognition we start Remembering and work forward. recognizing and recalling is one of the first ways we can improve our photography. By studying the exposure triangle and how each camera setting (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) impacts the aesthetic quality of an image can help us make better choices that will imbue a photograph with emotion. Looking at a lot of art and design will help us remember placement of design elements within the frame that help establish a successful composition.
I will also tell you that memory is an important part of the creative process. We climb a period that starts with technical skills that are mastered to the point of forgetting which affords us the time to explore concepts that will ultimately lead us towards a personal point of view in the work that expresses are creativity.
As I look at the levels of cognition chart above I realize that most of the photographs I make, especially if it’s a social documentary, are really a reference to a past experience. Generally what catches my eye and triggers me to want to pick up my camera is something that reminds me of a moment I had previously experienced. For me this revelation helps me deepen my understanding of how the levels of cognition lead towards creativity.
Understand and Apply
As we work our way up to the level of cognition involving understanding we gain insight into the medium we are working with. We understand the tools, we understand design elements and principles, and then we get up to being able to apply that understanding by being able to go out and make something. Creativity is about making an image not taking an image.
Analyze and Evaluate
After we’ve captured the image either via film or digital sensor, we go through the editing process. We need the ability to analyze and evaluate in order to refine our work. We develop different iterations of the imagery until we achieve something that is deeply satisfying.
We experiment and repeat the process until we gain some confidence in what we are doing and we gain that epiphany of creativity where we find our authentic and original point of view in the work. This is when we are ready to generate new ideas and operate at the level of CREATE.
It takes great practice and experimentation to create intuitively. This is where you hear people talk about the 10,000 hour rule. We have to spend a lot of time honing our craft and practicing at the levels of REMEMBER, APPPLY and EVALUATE before can discover the insight into our work that allows us to generate an original idea. One artist I met named Del Lusk had a project where he had photographed department store mannequins. He made hundreds and hundreds of photographs He said he had to work through all the cliche’s to get to something interesting and original.
The Creative Mind Owner’s Manual
By exploring exploring the levels of cognition that go into creativity I am attempting to write the owner’s manual for our creative mind. Becoming consciously aware of the cognitive processes that go into art making will help develop a creative practice which is the system of processes we use to lead us towards original works.