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Creativity and Artistry

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Little bee-eater

Little bee-eater

 

A few weeks ago, I got involved in a couple of discussions about creativity in photography and this led to a further discussion about the relationship – differences and similarities – between this and artistry.  Can you be creative and artistic?  Does being one preclude the other?  Do you have to be creative to be artistic?  Can you be artistic without being creative, and can you be creative without being artistic?  These were some of the questions that arose.  I am not sure that any of these questions were resolved to the satisfaction of all involved in the discussion.

There is also the question as to where these talents come from.  Are you born creative or can you learn to be creative.  I am of the latter school of thought.  The same question can be raised about being artistic – born with it or learned?  I believe that, if you can follow the rules of good composition, then you can also learn to be artistic.  I think that you can learn to design pictures that are aesthetically pleasing to a viewer.

I think it is probably appropriate to begin by trying to define, maybe that is not the best word, but at least put out what I mean by both artistry and creativity.  I believe that there is a distinct difference between being artistic and being creative. I do not feel, however, that one necessarily excludes the other.  I think it is possible to be artistic – includes the skills and talent to create fine works of art: painting, drawing, photographing, sculpting, musical composition, etc. that satisfy certain aesthetic requirements and creative – a skillset and ability to use their imagination to create and solve problems, i.e., create something that did not exist before.

For the sake of this discussion, I will define artistry in photography as making use of the “rules of design” to produce an aesthetically pleasing image, whereas creativity is finding new and different ways to place objects in an image.  Being creative, in this context could also be artistic.  For example, If you look at the photography of Erik Johansson, http://erikjohanssonphoto.com/work/imagecats/personal/. I would say he is creative, but is he artistic? Some would say yes and others might disagree.  For me, his work is both artistic and creative – they are aesthetically pleasing and creative. Compare this with the landscape work of the masters like Ansel Adams. Eliot Porter and some of the more contemporary landscapes artists such as Michael Frye, Alain Briot, David Muench and others, too numerous to mention.  They are artistic but are they necessarily creative – maybe, maybe not. Whereas some of the work of J. P. Caponigro is, in my opinion, very creative – is it artistic – maybe, depends on who you are asking.

I mentioned that artistry is using the “rules of design”.  What are these rules?  Without going into a lot of detail – that would be the subject of many more blogs – these rules includes things like the rule of thirds, the use of leading lines, patterns and shapes, simplicity and minimalism and a number of others.  For those interested in pursuing this aspect of photographic composition, web searches will give you lots to read and think about.  Here is one place to start – http://photoinf.com/General/KODAK/guidelines_for_better_photographic_composition.html

Harold Davis, of flower photography fame, has written a series of web postings on “Becoming a more creative photographer” – http://photo.net/column/harolddavis/…-photographer/. In the first paragraph of his opening article, he says:
Becoming more creative cannot be approached like an assembly line. There is no cookie cutter way to enhance the imaginative component of your photography. At the same time, with the exception of a few kinds of precision photography, creativity is the great differentiator between merely competent and inspirational photographers.

Meaning, that, unlike the artistic approach, there are no rules that can lead you to a creative image.

Nevertheless, I believe that one can learn to be creative. It is a matter of learning to think differently – to look at the world with a different view. To quote a much overused phrase – “thinking outside the box” can be learned and it is a first step in learning to think creatively. Edward deBono coined the term “lateral thinking” and has written a number of books on the concepts and the practice of this approach to creative thinking.  As Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”  For me, this is where the creative licence, if you want to call it that, comes in.  Being creative requires an active, if not over-active imagination and the more that you exercise this imagination, the more your potential for creative work is improved.

I think that, as photographers, we have to rethink what we mean when we talk about being creative, when we really mean being artistic.  If an image is appealing to our senses and we find it attractive, then it is probably because the photographer has used the basic rules, or guidelines, of compositional design to produce an image that is artistic.  It does not have to be creative.

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