Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Ted Byrne offered the following comment to my last entry on finding inspiration.

I've often wondered if, or why we might have more than one very good, even great, idea within us? How many one-hit-wonders have there been in script writing, song writing, architecture, or novels? And even among great artists, most are particularly acclaimed for a small part of their work.

Friends lament that the seem to continually retake the same photograph. When I look at their work I tend to agree, however in most cases it is a very good photograph... definately an artistic contribution.

Is it heresy to suggest that we may only have a few inspirations within us? Isn't it wonderful if we have only one? And once our masterpiece has been born, what's wrong with using everything we learned during that process of creation to better enjoy what others do?

Friends who were in their youth very good baseball players seem to enjoy the game at a level I can never approach.

It's not that people should give up photography after the birth of their greatest work, but rather embrace photography as a passive as well as an active experience.

Or ... or is it possible that we may have a continuing stream of greatness within us and merely need to sink new wells to tap different pools?

Dunno... but it intrigues me to wonder.

I started to write a response but thought both Ted's comment and my response deserve greater exposure.

Ted raises an interesting if somewhat scary question. Is it possible that we have only a limited number of creative ideas, that can be used up, like a cat's nine lives?

I suspect that those who are "one hit wonders" either got lucky, or the very idea of success blocked them from coming up with other ideas. Certainly writers often describe the second novel as being much harder to write than the first.

People like Edward Weston weren't famous for creatively inventing the idea of photographing nudes - people had been doing that since the invention of photography and long before that in paintings. He did on the other hand know a thing or two about lighting and how to make the human body photograph well. His poses are nothing especially unique but his technique exquisite and few have equaled it. He didn't create that skill while meditating on the toilet, it was earned with some very hard work poorly rewarded over many years.

I think this means that there is hope for anyone who feels they have only a finite number (possibly very limited) of truly original and creative ideas.

Craig Richards, a fine large format landscape photographer and Photography Curator of the Whyte Museum in Banff, has an ongoing project to teach junior high school students photography. Many of the kids are off reserves and none have previous experience. They are given used donated film cameras and sent out to create. They seem to have absolutely no trouble doing so and in fact each year Craig puts on a gallery show of the work of his students. These shows are technically quite good and creatively superb with fresh original ways of looking at the world from a large variety of students, in fact the vast majority of each class. These kids seem to have no difficulty saying important things and offering new insights into the world.

In fact, it's been suggested in the past that creativity is stifled by education, that we train our kids to behave and follow rules and look at things the same way as everyone else and thus drain thier creativity.

Craig's work with these kids suggests that creativity is not limited to a lucky few but that for some it takes more work to get it out and to "unsmother" it than in others.

People with ADD have no trouble being creative while having huge trouble with following rules and being linear in their thinking and being organized - so much so that it's nigh on impossible to beat the creativity out of them.

Perhaps the creativity is in all of us and those who are better organized and more linear thinkers merely have to unlearn the linear habits of many years of education and upbringing and following rules.

There are people and books and courses and workshops to help them do this and in the end I think that Ted is likely wrong, that all of use have an unlimited potential for creative ideas, but that accessing that creativity can be more difficult for some, and more difficult at some times of our lives than others.

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