Musings on Photography

Productivity, creativity, proxies and goals

Posted in art is a verb, motivation, process by Paul Butzi on December 27, 2008

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Colin weighs in with a good insight over on Photostream:

For whilst it is true that often productivity is a precondition for creativity, and whilst it is undoubtedly the case that practice is essential for any craft, and further, whilst it is beyond question that you can’t make good photographs unless you are making some photographs, productivity is definitely a proxy objective not a real objective. It is a means to an end that sometimes appears to become an end in itself.

Yup. And, as Colin points out, perhaps ‘creativity’ is really a proxy for what we’re really after as well. Colin embraces Kjell’s words, “I want to push my creativity, not my productivity.” We’re productive because it gives us an environment to be creative. ‘Creative’, as Colin points out, is an unfortunately vague word, but I don’t think that’s the crux of the issue.

The crux of the issue is that we’re productive so that we can be creative. We’re creative because… well, presumably because it enables us to be something else, something we can’t be without being creative. We’re creative because we want to feel fulfilled, or because we want to figure things out, or perhaps just because, for whatever reason, that’s the way some humans are put together.

This is good stuff for musing over a cup of tea, especially on a day like today, when I’ve got something like 3x the average annual snowfall on the ground, and it’s raining and making a big huge sloppy slippery mess that makes driving anywhere impossible. Not much else to do today but musing.

But I’m a bit leery. The whole “we’re productive so that we can be creative, we’re creative so that we can be fulfilled, we’re fulfilled so that…” has that pointless “It’s turtles all the way down” quality to it. There needs to be an end to the infinite regress, and the only endpoint can be our bedrock motivations for making photographs. There was a time when I thought everyone was generally aiming at the same target in life, and I no longer believe that, not even a little bit. People are hugely diverse and have radically different needs, and thus have radically different motivations. I can, if I work hard at it, vaguely articulate my motivations for the things I do, and probably you can, too.

The difficulty I see is this: we can only usefully discuss that part of the process we have in common, and perhaps usefully note where things diverge. At some point, each of us is on a solo journey. We can productively discuss rowing, and navigation, tides and currents. Things become a lot harder when we try to discuss where we should row and why.

That’s not because it’s impossible. It seems to me it’s more because when we discuss direction and motivation, we have a lot less in common and thus both the shared interest and the shared vocabulary are not there.

But I would note that this is the natural time of year for pondering goals, motivations, and habits, and for making resolutions about how we’re to proceed in the coming year.

[The Butzi Writing Award for December 2008 goes to Colin, for using the word “whilst” three times in one sentence. Whee!]

5 Responses

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  1. JH said, on December 27, 2008 at 11:45 am

    I wonder whether productivity, creativity etc. are not just ways of trying to find a way to measure ourselves, to somehow find a way to be valuable in the context of other human beings.

    If just being is not enough, and if you need a measure of value (or progress), then there is an endless series of measures to invent – the turtles in your metafora. But I suspect this is an endless road to nowhere.

    To be – or to be measured?

  2. singraham said, on December 27, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    The problem with discussions like this is that they are rooted in the illusion that there are acts which “are creative”, and acts which somehow “are not creative”. Even so called destructive acts create something, even if it is only disorder and empty space (which is, to the creative, only opportunity for construction). To be is to act. To act is to create. That’s who we are.
    Isn’t it foolish to attempt to identify what we do as creative, and what others are doing as “not creative”, or, for that matter, separate our own or other’s actions into productive and non-productive.
    Just be. Just do. Reflect as necessary. To live is to create.

  3. Gordon McGregor said, on December 27, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    maybe we are creative to be expressive? To find some way to say ‘it’, even if the audience is just ourselves.

    But then we step to what ‘it’ is – what are we trying to say? Why are we trying to express something. We seem to be one of the few or only animals with this need to express ideas – cave paintings all the way to digital SLRs.

    Makes me want to go and do an art history class all over again – why do people create art? To glory god? Because they get paid for it? Because they can’t not do it?

  4. Cliff said, on December 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    “The whole “we’re productive so that we can be creative, we’re creative so that we can be fulfilled, we’re fulfilled so that…” has that pointless “It’s turtles all the way down” quality to it. There needs to be an end to the infinite regress, and the only endpoint can be our bedrock motivations for making photographs.”

    As I get older, and none the wiser, I find that my motivations are either much simpler or my patience for analyzing them much lower. I make photographs because I like to. The simple act of taking a picture has the potential to make me happy. It used to be that I felt a need to ascribe a much deeper meaning to my action, but the selfish truth is I like doing it, and I love doing it well every once in a blue moon. I’m sure there are as many other reasons to photograph, as there are photographers, but somehow I suspect I’m not alone with this reason.

  5. Martin Doonan said, on December 30, 2008 at 5:59 am

    ssuming we’re alive and free to do as we wish, surely it’s all pursuit of happiness (apologies to TJ).


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