“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Scott Adams
I was listening as Dave was editing one of his live shows the other evening and heard a question come up about how to define creativity. Creativity has always been something hard to nail down in my opinion. It’s subjective and too often a personal perspective, yet it is the key measurement by which all work is judged.
I’ve struggled with the concept of creativity and how to describe it for some time. As a fine art gallery owner for a number of years, finding pieces that had the ‘wow factor’ was always a challenge. I needed exceptional pieces in the gallery to keep the high-end collectors interested and the doors open. Selecting work for the gallery was more art than science. I always hated to turn down an artist or photographer because their work wasn’t creative enough. I toiled with how to let them down without hurting their feelings, only to realize that I was doing them a disservice to send them out without trying to explain why their work wasn’t measuring up.
I began watching collectors and studying their behavior in an effort to better define creativity. What I found was that no matter the genre, great work was like a magnet drawing people in. It didn’t matter whether they collected photography, abstract paintings or bronze sculptures; a collector would glance around the room, spot a piece that ‘spoke to them’ and immediately move to get a closer view.
I remember a conversation I had with an abstract artist friend of ours in the early days of the gallery that influenced my thoughts about creativity more than anything else. I was finding it difficult to select abstract pieces to carry in the gallery. I hate to admit it, but so many of them looked alike to me. I couldn’t pick out a sellable piece to save my life. So I was like a sponge when it came to learning what was collectable and what was not. My friend shared with me that most work is ‘flat and soulless,’ from his perspective. It’s simply ordinary. ‘What you need to look for is something that speaks to you,’ he said.
Well…something that ‘speaks to you’ was hardly the kind of concrete definition I was looking for, so I went to the dictionary. The dictionary states that “creativity – is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” Well…okay, that’s not exactly clear either. Does that mean that if you break the rules and create new interpretations of known objects that would be considered creative? I could imagine several ideas with a cleverly composed image, but so what? Clever didn’t equal collectable in my mind, so I dismissed this definition as well.
I decided that I would have to define creativity in my own terms and decided to go back to my friend’s interpretation of work that speaks to him. What I concluded was it is an emotional response to great work as opposed to a logical one. There is some emotional trigger that is set off when I look at a great photograph. I noticed the same thing when I observed the collectors. It’s not about capturing a historical moment in time or a beautiful scene. It’s more than that. It is the emotional reaction I have when I can feel the cold of the ice and steel from a winter lighthouse scene, the warmth on my face and the smell of leaves in an autumn scene, or the tears welling up inside when I see the face of the bride and groom looking into each others eyes. I see it in great portraits as well. It’s that split second when the photographer has captured raw emotion…I see it and immediately feel it. It’s the ‘wow factor.’
If you’re like most great photographers I know, you can shoot hundreds of shots to get one with the ‘wow factor.’ You might guess that luck has a great deal to do with it, but I would argue that it’s deeper than that. It’s the ability to see something in your ‘mind’s eye’ so clearly that you know when you’ve captured it.
Every photographer knows a great shot when they see it. Creativity is no mystery, really. It may be hard to describe, but we all know it when we see it. The ‘wow factor’ is the shot that makes the adrenalin flow and the rush to show it to everyone within view. It’s pure excitement. It’s pure art!
There is no faster way to improve your business prospects than to improve your portfolio. Be careful of what you are communicating with your ‘body of work’. If an image doesn’t speak to you, get rid of it. Your portfolio is your reputation and there is simply no greater asset.
Company: Embella, Inc.
Photo Credit: © 2010 David E. Warner
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