Stories and opinions that spark creative thinking

Defining Creativity

I bought a book a few weeks ago about defining creativity. It’s called, literally, Defining Creativity. After the first few pages, I wound up putting it down and haven’t picked it up since. I created this piece of writing instead.

If you wanted to, you could get into your own head and start intellectualizing creativity—be very analytic about it and define it that way. Or you could smoke a bowl, pick up a pen and a journal and call whatever comes out creativity. Or, better yet, you could walk outside, experience your environment, see new things and do new things, see old things in new ways, and find yourself inspired to create something.

So, how exactly should we define creativity? I say, we shouldn't.

The business and marketing worlds want us to define everything, to label it, test it and prove it. But some things you just can’t prove—some things you’ve got to trust and believe. Creativity is one of those things. Like God, or Bigfoot, or angels. And if you’re one of those people who can believe, without clinging to that belief, you’re probably at least a little bit creative.

As a designer, when taking photographs, writing, or even cooking, I’ve never had a creative process and that might shock most people. This non-process has become the process. I rely on my eye, my mind, or my taste buds and just let things flow. Literally. And once things start to flow, they really flow. I’ve been through the schooling and learned the craft and the process but I prefer to get creative in my own special way. It’s all about vision. Once you’ve got that vision in your head, it’s trial and error until you’re able to translate it properly.

I read an article about David LaChapelle when I was in art school, whom I would consider more of an Art Director than a Photographer, where he talked about his inability to actually understand the technology of taking photographs. For example, he couldn’t grasp what the numbers on the lenses meant. Instead, his assistant attached color-coded labels to them, so if LaChapelle wanted a Super Wide he could just call out, “Bring me the red one!” Even then, he still couldn’t grasp it.

I identify with that on some level. Here, again, it’s all about vision—technology is just a tool left to be wielded by a skilled assistant. The creativity lies in the vision.

Most corporate creatives would never deny that being creative in the corporate world is incredibly difficult. More than difficult, sometimes it’s like, this is horrible. All of the freedom, all of the trial and error gets stifled. You’re not working for yourself, you’re working for someone else whose dollars mean that he or she gets to call the tune, for the most part, even if the tune isn't making any sense. There will always be some bit of back-and-forth, and sometimes the artist’s creative vision will be compromised.

But let’s get one thing straight. The artist is still the owner of “creative.” The maker, the doer, the visionary—these are the people who get to call themselves creative, not business people and marketers who so often use creative people to their own ends. And the more change an artist effects with his or her work, the more creative he or she gets to call themselves. LaChapelle's vision and subsequent work created noticeable change. In a time when black and white tones of nineties grunge were the look du jour in the magazine world, LaChapelle exploded color. He dropped a bomb that changed the way magazine photography looked. He didn’t define it, or label it, or test it, or wait for a marketing director to tell him not to do it because those black and white tones of grunge were what everyone wanted and would sell a lot of magazines. He trusted his instincts and he just did it. That’s creative.

Alyssa YeagerComment