artistic “ruts” and creativity exercises

having a discussion over at George Barr’s “Behind the Lens” got me thinking about the creative process, and more specifically – artistic “ruts”.We’ve all had ’em. we want to work, we want to
create, but the “juices” just aren’t there. we have no ideas, no inspiration, no muse. I hate ruts- HATE ’em

Unfortunately they are a fact of life as an artist, so the only question that remains is what do we do about them? A lot of the solutions essential come down to “creativity exercises” – artistic tasks that try and force you to stretch the bounds of creativity and work outside your comfort zone. I gave the example I once had of an assignment that was basically “shut yourself in the bathroom (or other small space) and take 50 pictures without “duplicates””. the point was to force you to run out of “easy” or obvious shots, so that you would be forced to think about and look at thing differently to photograph.

Seems that some folks like the idea of this kind of “creative exercise”, while some think it is not worth as much, since it is not really applicable to “actual” art or shooting (eg, who goes to shoot 2 rolls of film in a bathroom)

honestly I can see both sides of the argument, especially since everyone’s mind is different, especially when it comes to creative things, so what works for one might be useless for another. that said, I just put down some random thoughts on why I like “creativity exercises” and in my opinion, how the *are* relevant to actual artwork.

1. “Creativity” is kind of a nebulous concept, I think maybe what we are talking about here is more “artistic vision”
Art – at least to me (without getting into the whole “what is art” debate) is the projection of the artist’s subjective experience of reality

(how’s that for psychobabble!)
in other words: we all experience our own existence and the reality around us through the “lens” (heh) of both our senses/perceptions (modalities) *and* our cognitions (frames). Everyone has a tendency toward particular modalities and frames, unique to them -hence phrases like “oh he is a very *visual* person – referring to a primary visual modality.  Personally I am a primarily Kinesthetic, secondarily visual (maybe somewhat unusual for a visual artist?) but whatever… Now I believe that these frames & modes are partly innate, but are also largely formed over time by our experiences, personalities, and sense of identity. This unique “vision” is what shapes an artist’s work. Give 10 artists a subject to reproduce, and you will get 10 totally different works of art, even if they are all working in the same medium/style – why? because each artists subjective experience of the subject is different (bear with me there is a point to all of this!)

Anyway – the point is, these “frames” can *definitely* be learned/practiced/refined. A common technique in many cognitive therapies is “reframing” the subjects perceptions – making them “see thing differently” as it were, and there are certainly established techniques for this. So too, in art, one can “reframe” one’s artistic vision. Of course, this has a “ripple effect” – reframing in one aspect affects perception in other ways. this, I believe is the point of the so called “irrelevant exercises” – to provide some “reframing” to the artists vision, that will ripple through into their primary frames, expanding and changing them in the process.

2. the exercise analogy is a good one.
there is a great deal of evidence that the mind can be exercised, just like a muscle and responds similarly by growing and adapting. (note: this is not talking about intelligence per-se, but about cognition and though processes) – a further “exercise” analogy – when I was in college, I cycled for the schools mountain bike racing team. we did a lot of cross training, including weight lifting and running, why? because cycling had a particualar set of muscles/motions that were used primarily. running actually uses the muscles and body kinesthtics very differently. the end result was that running strengthened the muscles and kinesthetics that were somewhat overlooked in cycling, and in the end improved the cycling, “shoring up it’s weaknesses” so to speak. So too with the mind, it can be argued that “cross training” by using different cognitive frames will carry over into improvement in the primaries.

3. I think the criticism of this kind of exercise (bathroom photography, bus portraiture) is that these things are “not relevant” to the “actual” work – however I think this misses the point. Of course the *technique* is not relevant – no one actually takes portraits on a bus (well maybe someone, but…) the point is that these things are ways of breaking and reframing ones artistic perceptions, which will hopefully affect ones vision when one *does* return to the actual work.

4. I think the point also has to be made that we need to differentiate between a “technical” exerecie and a “creative” exercise. For a exercise to refine technique, I believe the best subject is something intimately familiar that the artist it totally comfortable with – why? so he can concentrate on the technical aspects, wihout having to think about creativity or subject matter. in a creativity exercise, the exact opposite is true. one *should* be uncomfortable, as it means that one is “pushing the envelope” of vision – working outside one’s frame, and that will translate to an expanded vision even within one’s “comfort zone” (and in the end will hopefully provide a greater comfort zone overall!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *