The Creative Photography Series: What Is Creativity? Part 2

October 27, 2013

Have you ever had a creative experience?  If you believe that you haven't or aren't quite sure, read my first post in this series and consider every aspect of your life, not just the avenues that may be considered "artistic."  Chances are, you have had a creative experience, and you simply need to recognize your own creative strengths.  If nothing comes to mind, then try to think of a moment when you felt the after effects of creativity -- the human experience of the creative process.

The Human Experience Of Creativity

"A lot of people forget how important it is to be creative. We get caught up in the getting ahead and in day-to-day minutiae.  But creativity is a fundamental mode of expression, as is being tenacious and standing by your own convictions and passions, even if it's not the 'popular' choice." -- Tabatha Coffey

Inspiration, motivation and enthusiasm are just a few of the after effects of a creative moment, those times when you suddenly feel a burden lifted from your shoulders.  Your perception of the world changes instantly, as if your physical vision has actually sharpened.

An article by NeuroHealth Associates describes the science of brainwaves.  Frequency of brainwaves is categorized by Gamma, BETA, ALPHA, THETA and DELTA.  THETA frequencies are not only associated with creativity, but also a lack of focus.  I find this description intriguing because it reveals a physiological basis for the real-life challenges of balancing our creativity with our real-world responsibilities.  When THETA waves are heightened, we tend to be more creative, yet going too far may lead to complete and utter trance-like daydreaming.

Let's face it, we all have responsibilities that we must tend to, and ignoring those responsibilities for the sake of being creative is a rare luxury.  On the other hand, though, depressing those THETA waves leads to focus and concentration, both of which enhance our abilities to meet our personal and professional obligations.  All work and no play makes everyone grumpy, though, and actually pushes our creativity into a dark and damp cave. Creativity is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating, rewarding and disappointing, joyous and depressing.  It is almost as if those THETA waves are bouncing around erratically, not sure which way to go.  Why, though, does the creative process put us through so much, physically, emotionally and psychologically?  The answer lies in the process itself.

The Creative Process

Tapping into our creative potential means that we are putting forth energy to transform the imagined into concrete reality.  In photography, the process translates into taking an unrefined digital or film exposure and, almost magically, turning it into an actual photograph that someone will not only hang on their wall, but that visually symbolizes our personal experience of being "in" a location.  This requires a vast number of decisions -- and those decision points begin the minute we expose ourselves to a "place" -- physically, emotionally and psychologically.  The journey of decision-making can last weeks, months and even years as we try to perfect the image.  The sheer number of iterations and tangents we experience takes an almost limitless amount of energy in the form of thought and experimentation.

The second reason that creativity is a rollercoaster ride is endorphins -- crazy little protein molecules that work with the opiate receptors in our brains.  Under stressful or painful conditions, our bodies release more endorphins to help us "perceive" less discomfort.  These are natural "feel good" chemicals.  When stress is prolonged or acute, an imbalance occurs that can only be remedied by reducing the stress levels.  In photography, the stress level typically decreases the most when you successfully create the image that you imagined, although, as we all know, the stress continues as we share our work.  So 36 to 48 hours after you have created the most stunning image of your career, your endorphin levels decrease, and instead of experiencing a deeply personal sense of satisfaction and pride, you are depressed.  No worries, though.  As your body regains physiological balance, you also gain a healthier emotional balance that gives you a calmer sense of accomplishment that is not nearly as short-lived as the endorphin rush.

The third reason that the creative process is so erratic is because we invest a significant and deeply personal part of ourselves into the creative cause.  Our hopes and dreams hang in the balance.  When our work goes unnoticed, it is heartbreaking.  Because our photography represents our personal experience and self-expression, it feels as if we are the ones being rejected.  It feels as if we are not being heard and that what we have to say is not important.  This is especially difficult for new photographers like me who are just finding their voices and making a space of their own in this community.  But trust me -- speaking from personal experience, I can say that it is far more painful to remain quiet than to speak and not be heard.  By speaking, you greatly increase your chances of finding people who are not only interested, but also completely engaged in the conversation.

Live long enough without the experience of being "heard," and eventually hope is lost.  Live a life without self-expression, though, and hope never existed.  In the difficult times, it is especially critical to continue speaking, as you are the only one in all of existence -- past, present and future -- who can share the human perspective that is yours alone.

The Importance Of Creativity

In closing, I want to share a quote from Gilda Radner that I believe expresses the importance of creativity much better than I ever could.

"While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die -- whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness." -- Gilda Radner

Enjoy the journey.

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