Photostudio Conversations: Teaching Creativity

Teaching Creativity. Another from the Photostudio conversations series. I mean, just how do you teach creativity in a class?

Of all the types of poetry, haiku is by far my favorite. Done well it is insightful, funny, surprising and a pleasure. Done perfectly and it is a sublime experience. Like all art, to create even just good haiku requires a great deal of creativity. But how do you teach someone to be creative? Is it even possible?

Photo by Lucas James taken at Maine Media Workshop 2014

Personally, I’m convinced that it is possible, but it requires something that is counterintuitive, namely some form of restraint. It’s counterintuitive since creativity is “thinking outside the box” but to get there, maybe we need to put ourselves in a box first. Bear with me. In everyday life we solve routine problems; what to have for breakfast, what route to drive to work, how to respond to an email. These are routine tasks with routine solutions- no creativity (or even thought) is required. But what if I forced you to solve a problem with some constraint? What if you had to make breakfast using only condiments? What if you had to get to work, but could only take a car for 1/5th of the distance? What if I asked you to respond to a question without using words? You’d have to get pretty creative to form a solution to these! So it’s the box- whether it’s seventeen syllables, a pile of random parts, a plain black pen and paper or ten brief minutes- that forces us to come up with a new solution. That box forces the mind to work outside of “normal”.

As in all things, practice makes perfect. Remember the scene in Apollo 13, where the engineers had to devise a solution to keep the crew supplied with oxygen using only what was available in the orbiter capsule? Talk about the need to think outside the box! The reason those guys were successful was that they had faced lots of creative problems before, just on a smaller scale. Plus they had highly technical knowledge that could be applied to the problem. We use this technique in teaching science; students learn theory, facts and formulae, then they apply them in problem solving. It’s that process of solving little problems that prepares you for the BIG ONE (probably not on the scale of Apollo 13, but you get the idea).

Teaching creativity
Now, build me a toaster!

So if you want to become more creative in your photography or art, try this: learn, challenge, solve, repeat. Learn some new skill, then set up a challenge- maybe try getting “the shot” in two frames rather than 100, or confine your photo shoot to ten minutes, or only shoot with one lens for a year. Once you feel like you have the challenge solved (and I mean totally dialed in), move to another one, or open up new skills (and new challenges).  Ask friends to assign you challenges.  The constant practice at solving these self imposed challenges will make you ready for when the unexpected one comes your way.

So I guess the answer to my initial question of how do I teach creativity, is that I don’t. The student teaches themselves!


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