Reclaiming Creativity

For a long time, I did not think of myself as a creative person.

When I was a kid, my favorite activity was writing. I sat with my face buried in a notebook, creating characters and stories and entire worlds for hours on end. Then I entered adolescence, and guidelines took over my life. The papers I wrote for school had strict rules attached to them, about structure and grammar and form and countless other things that didn’t leave much breathing room. I became so obsessed with doing as I was told, getting good scores, and moving on to the next grade that I forgot to do my own thing, because doing so would mean death, or, even worse, a B. In the process, I got out of the habit of using my imagination. I decided I was not creative.

I continued on this way for several years, and then, for my twentieth birthday, I asked my parents for a camera. I’m not sure what inspired my request – there wasn’t a specific moment when I recall thinking, “Ah yes, I shall be a photographer” – but I do remember seeing beautiful pictures online and wanting to make some of my own. So my mom and dad bought me a fairly inexpensive DSLR, and I started taking pictures. They weren’t very good, beyond the quality that the camera itself offered, but I suddenly found myself seeing the world in a new way; I noticed how the light filtered through the leaves of a tree, or how objects around me shifted depending on the angle. I composed shots with a purpose, loving the ease with which I could freeze and translate what I saw with my eyes to something more permanent and lasting.

But I still didn’t consider myself to be creative. I didn’t even think of myself as a photographer; it took at least another six or seven years (during a few of which I was actually making money for taking photos) and hearing several people to describe me as one for me to feel comfortable giving myself that title.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this is; why I, someone who others refer to as being creative, would shy away from referring to herself as such, and I’ve realized something: “creative” is a scary word. For the longest time, I had a weird idea about what creativity meant. I thought that in order to be creative, I had to be an arteest; someone who sits alone in a messy, well-lit studio all day long, forming wet clay with my hands or splattering color everywhere as I paint a masterpiece. I thought that in order for my creativity to be valid, I had to be an expert (whatever that even means) – as though I could only truly be considered a creative person once I had achieved a certain status or level of success in a specifically creative field.

This is a way of thinking that is incredibly pervasive in our culture, so much so that it has affected even those who society holds up as being the “creative class”. There is an intimidation factor involved, and it’s hard for anyone to overcome, especially in a world where certain activities are deemed as being creative while others are shoved into a box labelled “No Creativity Allowed”.

Case in point: a couple of weeks ago, I was editing photos from a recent family shoot, and I was trying to figure out a way to make my workflow more efficient. After a little bit of finagling, I figured out a new way to do batch edits that would save me a lot of clicking back and forth between photos, and I remember thinking how nice life would be if I could just stick to doing the creative part of photography and not have to deal with all of the boring stuff like workflows and marketing. It was only a few days later, during a conversation with a friend, that I realized that in that moment, I actually had been using creativity – it was just hard for me to see because of my preconceived notion of what creativity means.

In hindsight, I can see that what felt like just figuring out logistics was actually me utilizing my imagination in order to make things run smoothly. I too often make the mistake of assuming that the creativity part of my business is separate from the business part of my business; art vs. numbers. I fail to make the connection between the two, which I believe is a common error.

This common error is a big part of the reason why I’m so excited to be involved with Connect the Grey. We want to help people regain the connection between their imagination and their work, whatever that work may be. There are only good things to be gained by collaborating with each other as businesspeople, artists, and, most importantly, human beings. It’s up to us to reclaim the word creativity and remake into something universally accessible. I can’t wait to see what’s to come.