Creativity is a Double-Edged Sword

As photographers, we are creative people, though how fully in touch with it we are can vary greatly. For many it defines us, but it can also have a negative side.

Back in 2007 I wrote about Creativity and Depression. I didn’t realize the topic would come up again so forcefully.

Photography is definitely a creative discipline. How creative it is, naturally, varies widely depending on the form of photography. Some areas offer less room for personal expression, while others are all about your personal vision.

Creative individuals need to be sensitive. We have to be sensitive to all sorts of subtle things, both within and without. Within, we must understand, even if only unconsciously, our own emotional state and how to reflect or transcribe that into an image. Without, we also need to understand the impact of images on the emotions, so we can create strong images that force an emotional response from the viewer. If we work with people we must be sensitive to their emotions, to some degree, empathic, and able to effectively change their emotions through dialogue to produce the result we need for the image. Emotions are really what we are dealing with in photography: how does a beautiful landscape produce an emotional response, and which ones, for example.

It is this sensitivity that allows us to walk through an everyday environment and respond to it differently to the myriad people walking past it, instead seeing opportunities for powerful images, abstractions, interesting details, documentation of a way of life or more. It is also how we bring out the character in a portrait subject, create images that engage emotionally in reportage and such.
Yet when creative people are blocked, not in touch with their creativity, loose the contact with it or are otherwise impacted, they can take things very hard. This is why many of us are at our happiest when we are creating, when we are in the zone, loose time and there are just us, our camera and our subject: as one. When we are not creating we are not at our peak. The key to everything is to know yourself. You must be as sensitive to your own needs and emotions as you are to your subject.

When life throws you a curve ball, exercising your creativity may be the key to getting through it. For me, over the last three months, I have had a series of difficult experiences with some clients, then hackers took down Digital ImageMakers and then, two weeks ago, my brother-in-law committed suicide. I got through the first two by escaping at critical times to the country to do some landscape photography: releasing stress and healing.

My brother-in-law was an interesting example of the problems of creativity. A far more sensitive person than anyone really knew, he was also very creative, yet not in real contact with it yet. My wife and I had been encouraging his striking work with metal, but alas he had not reached a point of real contact with his creative side before other events overtook him. The result is great sadness.

A less sad but even more illustrative example is a woman I knew. She came to me for advice. She was very young, early twenties, yet she was on her second marriage, having an affair and considering starting another. As we discussed this, my intuition was telling me to explore her creativity. After much denial she eventually admitted that up to the age of 15 she had wanted to act on the stage. It was at this point that her mother had told her that there was no money in the stage and that all actresses had loose morals anyway. I pointed out that this was her answer. She had a dramatic energy about her, and since she was not controlling and using it, the energy was controlling and using her, making her life like an episode of Days of Our Lives. With encouragement she joined an amateur theatrical group and her personal life settled down, she became much happier at work and started to feel really happy for the first time in ages.

To take something from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”. In our case; the power is the ability to create; the great responsibility is to ourselves, to use it fully and positively. Sadly a great imagination can also imagine terrible and unbearable things. We must take control of our creative sides and give them something constructive to do, or they will take control of us.

So as creative people our challenge is to find creative outlets for that energy we have. We need to find new challenges when we get stale, new directions to explore, set ourselves challenges and make our creativity always a positive force in our lives. Creative people constantly need new territory to discover for themselves.

The key points are:

  • Use your creativity;
  • Integrate it into your whole life;
  • Challenge yourself creatively;
  • If you dwell on negativity, force some creativity.

Photography, and the related areas of computer art, provides an infinitely wide field for us to play in. We need never run out of new subjects to shoot, new techniques to try, new equipment to experiment with and new internal visions to try to portray. It also provides an infinite space within which to heal from the horrors of the world at times.

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4 Responses to “Creativity is a Double-Edged Sword”

  1. Brian.ParkhurstMarch 18, 2009 at 2:05 am #

    So true,I share your thoughts with our little Art group.Creative highs and lows are so typical of Creatives.Seize Life every day and enjoy it as if it were your last, while treating all as if there were an Eternal Damnation.

  2. DarleneMarch 18, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    As an Art Therapist, in professional standing, I know how important the arts (including dance, music, performing arts, etc.) are to our essentional soul. Unfortunately, many of our schools only “teach” the art aspect and if one doesn’t appear to have talent, art is not appreciated, let alone taught as a survival tool. It has helped me through numerous life issues. CREATE!!!

  3. WayneMarch 18, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    You are dead right about art schools and the non-therapeutic focus of most of them.

    Perhaps the most extreme example of the pain caused by unfulfilled creativity is Hitler. Once his art was rejected by the art establishment, he turned his anger outwards, with the results we all know.

  4. WayneMarch 18, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    You are dead right about art schools and the non-therapeutic focus of most of them.

    Perhaps the most extreme example of the pain caused by unfulfilled creativity is Hitler. Once his art was rejected by the art establishment, he turned his anger outwards, with the results we all know.

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