Creative People

Creative People. Different? Just like anyone else? Gross generalizations are always dangerous and unfair too. But by and large I think creative people do have a few things that make them different.

And no, I am, for once, not writing about myself. I have spent my life teaching many many highly creative people, both young and in college but also adults in various workshops and classes. 

Of course, everyone's creative in some way or another. Creativity can evidence itself at work or in a hobby or in a parent being creative in bringing up a child. I always  think of the office worker, slaving away in their cubicle, day after day, coming up with a new way to manage something or direct something to make for better efficiency or less cost or more quality in: whatever. That's creativity too. But being an artist places creativity at the top of the stack and being a professional artist makes being creative practically an all consuming activity. This gets us into thinking about talent, a word I don't have much use for. Talent presumes it all flows out on its own, as in "she was so talented". Talent also implies that there isn't much effort needed, that work isn't necessary. Bullshit.

I tend to think of creativity as being an asset that needs nurturing and hard work too. Writers must write, musicians must play, artists must make their pieces. I also believe ideas beget ideas. As a teacher this was an almost constant refrain: "go shoot", I would say. The student would reply they didn't know what to shoot. I would say it didn't matter. Doing is better than not doing. Acting is better than just thinking. I would say: "Pictures make pictures."

Creative: Inventive? Curious? Innocent? Driven? All of the above and much more. Artists of all kinds need these in their arsenal along with drive, motivation, a big work ethic, determination, little fear of failure, thick skins, wearing blinders (focus), joy in the making, self sufficiency,  single mindedness, passion, love, humor, ability to borrow, steal, assimilate, emulate, plagiarize (learn from others) and the ability to be sensitive to others' reactions to their works, to be able to hang in there in the face of criticism, bad reviews, or lack of public support, to be okay being alone. In my experience most artists are introverts, although this isn't universal. Also, most seem to be observers, standing on the edge of the circle, looking in. 

Very often artists will have a rich variety to their upbringing. Quirky parents, being moved around a lot, an important grand parent or relative. Almost always there is someone in their past that "gave them permission" to be themselves, to follow their own path. Late bloomers are also frequent: those that took awhile to find their art, perhaps trying many things first. But then, of course, there are the prodigies, the naturals who just seem to have been artists from day one. I always sought those out in the classes I taught because a prodigy could show the way for others new to making art. Very often someone so comfortable in their role as an artist could demonstrate that there really were no obstacles in the way. 

It's hard for artists to have bosses, I believe. Mentors, maybe. Those that they can see have placed creativity as key. But someone telling them how to do something, how to behave, what to do? Difficult. Creative people tend to want to be self directed.

Work. I would often tell students to work. That artists work. Talent's got nothing to do with it. I had no room for laziness in my classes, particular when our classes were often wait listed. For artists really do work. Visit an art school, a dance studio, a rehearsal hall, or a place like Penland in North Carolina and you'll see welders, potters, painters, glass blowers and yes, photographers, working away at all hours. 

Selfish. That's a hard one and something creative people need to look at. For, yes, artists can be selfish, in their own heads, not as aware of others' needs around them as they are of their own. Narcissists are really a pain, the need to be in the spotlight.The worst. Big egos can run rampant here. For many the concept of empathy and sympathy will need to be a constant refrain. I spent my whole career being around people that were artists and teachers. One one hand: a life involved in one's self, one's sensitivities and creative output making to create art work shown in galleries and museums. On the other hand a career where the teacher is really the least important. One a "take"vocation and the other a "giving" one. My teaching colleague Andrea Raynor would often say: "Teaching isn't about you, it is about them".  So very true. For me, as someone who tends to be in his own head and thoughts, teaching is a wonderful balance between the "me me me" side and the "all about them " side.

Lastly. What about fulfillment? Is making art a meaningful and fulfilling way to go through your life? Absolutely! But also frustrating, challenging, for most not a path to wealth, a career that can be lonely, and so on. 

It can be helpful to think of what the desired outcome is if you're an artist.  More on that later. As always, thank you for reading I can be reached at my email: here.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 20, 2018


Shows are ephemeral-they come, they go. It is important to preserve them by photographing them before they come down. 

I learned this lesson when several shows from earlier in my career came and went with no documentation of their existence.  That's also why I like cards or posters: an image that is in the show, the title, the gallery or museum, the address and date. All of this out survives the show which is quickly gone. Reviews too are important to save. 

These are from my show at the New England School of Photography in Waltham MA that just ended last week.

Not high end, no lighting, just snapshots, really. But important.

This from outside on the sidewalk in front of the school. One of the reasons for making large prints was to have them easily seen from outside.

The show statement, which was edited from a longer text that was in a folder that contained a bio, contact information and price sheet, business cards, etc.

Installation photographs=Documentation=Important

Topics: exhibition,show

Permalink | Posted February 18, 2018


If you've read this blog for a while you know that I am essentially apolitical, certainly here in this forum. But the recent killings in Florida make me so mad I am reaching out to you to try to effect change.

If you agree that AR-15 rifles should not be legally purchased and that the NRA needs to be cut off from directly funding politician's campaigns please do this: tell your representatives to stop this crazy situation of allowing these mass murders, tell them to make the necessary changes or you will vote them out of office.

Easy. Go to "" to  find and call your representative directly and tell them what you think.

Thank you.

This must stop.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 16, 2018


Commit to your work. Simple, really.

Work Hard.

Accept Discipline.



Talent is for novices.

Don't equivocate.

Sure, there are those that complacently muddle along, look through their camera occasionally, take pictures on a whim, bring their camera on vacation and accept the pictures that it makes. But not experts and masters. They work hard, often daily, to get results. 

Look, photography is both exceptionally easy and overwhelmingly difficult. It is easy to get very good results, especially in these times when cameras are very smart (this includes smartphones). But as a beginner improves, learns perhaps Lightroom and Photoshop (or analog) and starts to make prints, the bar is raised. This is a sliding scale. Improve and the stakes are raised and the degree of subtlety increases.  Get better and as you improve your eyes are opened to just how high the stakes are and how very difficult it is to become truly accomplished.

Hypothetical young student of photography named Jackie. She starts out, is tickled at the results from the first class or workshop, displays the work, gets praise, is encouraged to submit to contests, wins prizes or awards etc. Moving on, she decides to submit to portfolio reviews, applies, gets in, goes and is crushed, ground to a fine powder with scathing reviews of work that she is told is seriously flawed, returns home discouraged and despondent. Eventually, she reassembles (or not), dusts shoulders off and approaches again with perhaps some humility in the mix, some sense that there are levels and then there are levels. Crucial stage here: our student of the medium starts to look at other work, starts to become informed from the masters, in books and in exhibitions. She goes to presentations, lectures in her community and show openings.  She approaches people who work she admires and seeks to learn first hand from them. She looks at the work of the masters of the print and the true geniuses with unbelievable powers of intellect, sensitivity, premonition and perception. She slowly gets better, through hard work and photographing now far more frequently but with far less "star" pictures the result. Slowly Jackie understands the need to make more pictures but to raise the standards on if they are successful of not. Through practice and acceptance there is a discipline here where she is developing a perspective, an approach that she can begin to own. To make her own photographs, not to emulate others. This takes time and really hard work to get to.  She can begin to see her own approach as a characteristic of who she is, photographs that tell a story of her history and upbringing, with her own sensibilities and proclivities. Smaller parts of her pictures will take on more importance here; the figure in the back of the frame, the moment caught unbelievably in a fraction of a second, light causing the magic of highlighting and delineating, the softness and nuance of the framing making something heartrendingly poignant, the beauty of the scene found among the horror of a natural disaster. She has moved from that first success of something flashy, colorful and surface to photographs that convey meaning and depth, have a point of view and share that sensibility with increasing scrutiny and perspective. She receives growing praise on her work from those that matter, the professional critics such as gallery owners, museum curators and journalists, as well as her peers that she respects. This then boosts her to take risk, to go with her gut more for she now knows what her contribution can be rather than simply emulating within someone else's territory.

Committing is a first step to the realization that this is a discipline just like any other that needs hard work, intelligence, training, practice, determination, innovation, a sense of humor, humility and uncompromising standards of quality.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 13, 2018


Drove up early yesterday morning from  Malibu where I am staying to Santa Barbara to charter a flight over the fire damage in the towns around Ventura where the forest fires were last fall. We also flew over Montecito where the mudslides were.

Think scorched earth and devastation with pockets of homes completely preserved. Odd.

The fires progressed from above in the hills back behind where the population centers are, but also threatened orchards, vineyards and horse farms, as well as homes.

In places, fire came right over Highway101 to the sea

(the darker areas here were caused by the fire as it jumped over the highway).

The mudslides in Montecito happened because the vegetation burned above the town, allowing the rain to flow down the valleys like a river, scouring and loosening the dirt.

(the lighter line of trees show the path of the mud)

some homes flooded and appearing submerged by the mud. Two story homes with just the roof left.

I found pockets of land untouched, whether from firefighters working to protect or land owners out for hours with hoses and digging fire breaks. 

The fire damage looking as if from a blast zone. How terrible to know this was coming towards you and powerless to stop it. All your worldly possessions and the small things: pictures, momentos from an earlier time, an anniversary, a wedding, a funeral. Gone in an instant. Watching your home catching fire and running to escape with your life and little else.

I wonder how many negatives or digital files went up in smoke, how many prints?

My heart goes out to those that lost so much. These two disasters serving as reminders that life and all that we hold dear is fleeting and can be gone in an instant.

Topics: Color,Domestic,Digital,Aerial

Permalink | Posted February 10, 2018