Recently we talked about setting limits to increase creativity.
As we narrow down our focus, it becomes easier to just get on with the work, rather than endlessly debating when, how and what we should start.
In the conversation surrounding that article, I was asked further about how I actually got down to setting the limits I did set, in my example of taking photographs.
In the original article, I talked about the various layers of increasingly narrowed focus – first I chose to only take black and white photographs, then added a second layer – black and white and close up.
The third layer was the subject matter – nature, leaves, trees. The final layer was the time of day – early morning when there was mostly a layer of dew or frost across the land.
(In fact the original narrowing of focus in what to create was to simply choose photography, and to not choose writing, singing, dancing, music, film, or a host of other options that also draw me to experiment. So level zero of focus is to choose photography, level one is choosing only black and white photos, and so on.)
I didn’t choose any of these limits arbitrarily, plucking them out of thin air. Neither did I choose them instantly, and all at once.
These limitations evolved naturally, led my by own curiosity and hunger.
I’ve always loved black and white photography more than colour. Something about it being more romantic, more pure, more timeless.
I realise that this is just the photographic manifestation of a deeper desire or value I have in making art.
For example, I have been writing far longer than I have been seriously taking photographs. I used to have a small set of rules that I wrote poetry by (and still have, they’re just so embedded now I forgot I had them!)
They included not using names of anything that might date the poem. I rarely even use people’s names, and often keep away from obvious hes and shes.
This, for me, makes a poem timeless and open to all.
I could write a poem about a couple in love and give one a clear boy’s name, the other an obvious girl’s name, state their ages, nationalities, set it in a certain place and time, and so on. But for me that would tie it to that time, that boy/girl relationship, those associations the readers’ have of those two names.
Whereas I could write essentially the same poem about the couple and not explicitly mention name, age, place, time nor gender. The underlying feelings would be the same, and in fact would likely to be intensified (for the reader) because all the surface details were stripped off.
You could be anyone that ever had a relationship and knew those feelings of being in love with another, and relate to the poem, whether you were male, female, 16, 106, straight, gay, and so on.
To me this is the poetic equivalent of the timeless black and white photograph.
So from this example I hope you can see that the decisions we make in how to narrow our focus on what we create, are based on the things we already know and are drawn towards. The things we’re curious to explore more, the things we’re hungry to know.
You might not think you know what to focus on, or how to limit your creativity, because you love so many different materials, have so many ideas, and want to create in so many different ways.
But you can’t do it all, certainly not at once.
If you honestly don’t know how to choose, ask yourself a couple of simple questions –
1. Which creative projects have I enjoyed most in the past? What is it about them I enjoyed most? (Clue: In answering this question, How and Why you created them might be far more important than what you actually created and the medium you chose.)
2. If I could only work on three more projects for the rest of my life, then had to stop creating forever, which projects would I choose?
Let you artistic hunger and curiosity come through. It’s already there, just beneath the surface, waiting to guide you.
Let it take you deeper, not wider.
Let it help you become more focused, not more scattered.
Let it guide and inspire you to grow a tiny and incredibly beautiful garden, that you’re highly proud of and others clamour to visit, rather than keep sowing seeds haphazardly across vast rolling fields and never seeing them come to anything.
Ultimately you just need to pick something to work on, one angle, one approach.
Then hone it a little further, and further still. Then explore, own, devour, and dominate that little niche you’ve chosen, until you’ve mastered it. Until you feel like an artist, and beyond.
Then, if you want to, you might to explore another creative path your curiosity and hunger and leading you down…
How do you choose which creative projects to focus on? Join the conversation to let us know.
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