Art and the Creative Process

Over the years, I’ve come across so many Ansel Adams wannabes, Wynn Bullock wannabes, Michael Kenna wannabes and many others who’d prefer to be someone other than who they are. I’ve been drawn to the conclusion that imitation is the sincerest form of mindlessness.

A few months ago I was invited to give an address to a local photographic arts group. I titled my talk “The Urge to Create,” in the course of which I had emphatically dismissed the idea of “rules” in the creation of art. At the end of the meeting, a gentleman asked one of the very good questions that were posed that evening: "If there are no rules, then how do we maintain standards?" As a fuller discussion of this could easily have absorbed another several hours, I thought it best to postpone, and then promptly forgot about this interesting problem.

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Aloneness, solitude, is frequently a choice, even a necessity. Loneliness, however, implies a yearning for connection. Both are conditions familiar to artists, and sometimes flow into each other. The literature, including poetry, on aloneness and loneliness, is more than ample. Some of it is encouraging, some empathetic, some contradictory, some reconciliatory and some so distressing as to itself cause the depression from which it may well have arisen.

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Creating is difficult and demanding work. Ask any creator. We know it requires a synthesis of imagination and high technical skill, but we frequently forget that the act of creating is also allied to humor and play. Play is thought of as a childish pursuit, not appropriate for adults in an increasingly technological and empirical world. There’s a story about a man who explains to his little daughter that his job is to teach adults to draw. “You mean they forget?” she asks. Yes, they do.

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That’s a good question to ask of a surgeon before an operation. It’s usually also a good question to ask of a financial counselor, an electrician, or the pilot of a chartered aircraft. But there are occasions when the question is the last or only resort of a potential employer who has little or no idea of what they’d like to see accomplished. It vacuums all the creative imagination out of the room and replaces it with the certain monotony of an assembly line.

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