I was driving my 8 year old daughter to school the other morning and we got into an enlightening discussion about creativity. She had spent the past weekend writing a short story to be submitted for a competition. Of course, everything our young kids do is amazing, but I have to say that I was moved by the story she wrote. It had everything a story should have; it had a beginning where the scene was set and the characters introduced, a middle where the story unfolded and an end where there was conclusion and resolution. The story was magical and engaging and followed a carefully thought out plot. She gave the characters life and their environment had atmosphere.
I asked her where the ideas for her story came from and she told me that some came from other books she had read (she is an avid reader) and others came from her imagination. I asked if the story was based on a particular story she had read, to which she said no, but rather from small pieces of many stories she had read and that she used her imagination to weave all of those little excerpts into her story. I realized that this is precisely what I try to do with my photography. When I am not photographing or creating images, I spend lots of time looking at images created by other photographers, some of which stick with me and get stored in my long term memory bank. Quite often, when I am working a scene or an image, those images come back to me and I use my imagination to weave them into my own work. I am a firm believer that every image we create is the sum of every other image we have ever seen and that each builds on every image we are yet to create. In this sense, I believe every image we create is a part of who we are.
The only difference between what my daughter was describing and my own thoughts are the years that separate our ages. If she “gets it” at 8 years old, what happens in our lives that makes us forget it to a point where we have to reinvent / relearn it much later in life? I frequently feel that I am just starting to learn about creativity and the more I thought about our conversation I began to wonder if once we hit a certain age our brains take a larger role as a repository for information and we are given (taught) tools to process that information in a structured, logical manner geared towards quantitative problem solving. While we may not lose the ability to be creative (qualitative problem solving), we use that tool less and less and, as with any tool we don’t use so often, we eventually forget how to use it as effectively. If this is true, when we want to be creative later in life we have to retrain ourselves to use the tool, which then feeds the problem of arbitrating logic vs creativity. I asked my daughter about this and since she has not yet reached an age where she has been steered away from creative thinking, she wasn’t questioning it. Although I am sure she will grapple with this as she gets older, for now I want to enjoy watching her lose herself to her ideas and imagination and create many more wonderful stories. I am going to enjoy re-learning creativity with her.