It turns out that creativity is a skill. And like any skill, you can practice and get better at it. In fact, just learning about creativity and how it works can help. –Mark Manson, “5 Boring Ways to Become More Creative”
What is Creativity?
While listening to Mark Manson read his essay, “5 Boring Ways to Become More Creative,” I was surprised by how much of what he wrote rang true about writing. I was excited to try the concepts out on collage: a medium where I have no experience.
How can I tell if it works? Manson quotes in italics: If something is creative, it’s because it triggers some degree of surprise or excitement within us—it reconfigures existence in ways we could not have previously imagined.
Prior to Jocelyn’s CrafTea Fridays, I could not have previously imagined doing collage, so that leaves surprise and excitement!
Focus on Doing the Work, Not Flashes of Inspiration
Creative people don’t “find time” to be creative—they put in the time to be creative.
It’s no surprise, then, that when you look at the creative geniuses throughout history to find commonalities, the most glaringly obvious one is that they simply worked their asses off more than most people, and longer than most people. There’s almost a direct correlation between how much someone created and how original their work ended up being.
I approached the disorder of the collage table without a clue what I was going to produce. The supplies included a 5 x 8″ piece of card stock to hold images, a folder full of pre-torn images, remnants of other people’s collages, a variety of magazines from which to draw images, some scissors, and glue. It wasn’t hard to start placing things on the card and monitor my reaction (for any surprise or excitement).
I kept an image of an art museum exterior with a banner reading “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” and a crowd of people. It was the work that produced the idea, not the other way around.
Do “Normal” Things
Salman Rushdie was a copywriter for a big New York ad agency, writing some of the industry’s most classic campaigns during the day and working on his novels at night.
Andy Warhol worked in the ad department of a magazine and was a designer for a shoe manufacturer. It was in these jobs that he experimented with many of the techniques that would later come to define his now-famous design style.
Most of the internet would have you believe that boring, stable jobs somehow kill creativity. But in many cases, the boring corporate life actually allowed these people to put food on the table and hone their crafts at the same time.
The ideas that built my collages came because I was doing “normal” things, not despite the fact.
Admittedly, accompanying my partner E. to an art supply store increased the probability that I would discover the cute animal stickers that I could employ as subjects in “Wildlife Photographer of the Year.”
I passed many free library posts in front of houses every day on my walks. Taking a pause to check a few out was the only deviation from my “normal” routine. I found a couple of image-rich children’s books, one of which I’d use in my second collage, and a People magazine I’d use in my fourth.
Be Bored, Not Distracted
When you’re bored with nothing else to do, you’re faced with the realization that you have the agency to choose what your life will be in that moment. And as empowering as that thought might seem, it’s also really fucking scary.
Do I try something new? Something that might help me but might not? Something I might be good at…or completely fail at? Do I just sit here? OH MY GOD, MAKE IT STOP. WHERE’S MY PHONE???
…there is no difference between inspiration and lack of distraction. They are the same thing.
Though I arrived at my second inspiration by “doing the work,” leafing through one of the children’s books I’d found, my idea to “Color The Picture” of a yak by cutting up other images to fit the outline proved, well…boring. The yak is not a particularly colorful creature, and the colors available to me in the children’s book images lacked variety and gradation.
I decided to stick with the boring concept instead of distracting myself with another idea. E. suggested that I try a book that contained more photorealistic illustrations of landscapes. I decided to use these to color the picture, along with select images from a weekly shopper.
Treat Ideas Like Investments: Buy Low, Sell High
Art shares a lot of similarities with undervalued stocks. At first, when people hear of a novel idea, a lot of them will laugh it off as ridiculous, outlandish, unnecessary, or just plain dumb. It’s here that the artist “buys” the idea at its low value, then finds a way to refurbish and “flip it” into something of higher value that the world understands and appreciates.
The art that surprises and excites me most in local galleries often involves the upcycling of materials artists likely found in recyling bins.
My experiment with upcycling involved an envelope of advertisements (junk mail) that I had no interest in other than the mild curiosity of how I got on the mailing list.
The scenario that I came up with by combining the offers and pasting them to a junk mail card, brought a smile to my face. If it brings a smile to yours, that’s two more smiles than it would have generated if I simply recycled the materials.
Find the Most Creative People in Your Field and Steal from Them
Research suggests that the process of creativity starts first with immersing yourself in the domain you’re interested in. That means: first, study your ass off. Before adding something novel (and valuable!) to any body of work, you first have to know what that body of work is and get good enough to at least emulate it, if not surpass it.
My first challenge was finding a collage artist I admired. My second was finding someone whose style I had the skill level to imitate.
John Strezaker is able to create some striking imagery by making hybrid faces out of two photographs. These composite faces surprise and excite me and challenge me to see the world in a previously unexpected way. Because the technique doesn’t involve combining hundreds of sources in one collage, it appeals to me as being thrifty if not easy.
I found a cover photo of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez on an issue of People magazine in a Free Library. I botched my attempt at a Ben J. Lo, but continued playing with faces.
An image of Kate Winslet roughly filled a 5″ x 8″ card. So, I decided to cut that face into shapes like a puzzle and piece them together. My concept: the surprise would come from the inherent imperfections of my skill in reassembling the puzzle. That was the plan, anyway…
Until the wind blew the pieces off the canvas, I lost a few, and I realized I’d have to start guessing where things went and gluing them into place.
I decided to make a puzzle of Winslet’s name as well, and was surprised and excited that I would be able to finish this series where I started it, with an elk!
What’s Your Medium?
Collage probably isn’t my medium because I don’t like accumulating and organizing materials. I enjoyed the process of making them and releasing them into the wild by depositing them in the Ainsworth Art Exchange.