Be Creative By Going Beyond Tradition

I wrote this one page article in 2001 and spent the morning today revising the syntax (proof that I’m a different writer now). I also added two books to my list of recommendations to get creative, be creative, and maintaining your creativity. If you know of any good books not on my list, please share.

Have you ever considered the possibility that as you’ve matured you may have become less creative than when you were younger? That isn’t good news if you make a living creating. Consider how I had taken a Creativity test in high school that catalogued me in a high percentile. I assumed that I would stay there because I was regularly drawing and engrossed in many aspects of art. I never thought I could lose my creativeness. However, another test taken almost fifteen years later showed that my score had fallen by almost thirty percent. Had I become less creative than when I was a teenager? It appeared so, but how?

Creativity is the ability to tap past experiences and come up with something new, whether it is new to the person or the entire world. By that definition, we should continuously become more creative as we get older. Unfortunately, we don’t. We become controlled artists, willing to let others pave the way and then follow the leaders. Some of us are afraid of being the creative geniuses with new ideas about art, and so we make our living as artists in their shadows, not being inventive, not taking expression to a higher level, not being original, and unwilling to break the rules lest we sever the safety net beneath us.

But I believe we should always be changing, always experimenting with our art. After all, artists today have tools that never existed. We no longer need to make the same salable art repeatedly like automatons. We’re humans with fantastic minds. Why would we want to stifle that?

If I’ve sparked a creative urge inside, here is a list of my 3 favorite books along with some others to help rejuvenate your creative mind.

  • Edwards, Betty. Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1979. “The classic art book in the field of whole-brain education.”
  • Gelb, Michael J. How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Seven Steps To Genius Every Day. New York: Delacorte Press, 1998. “The ultimate self-help book. This is one of my absolute favorites because it deals with more than art.”
  • Maisel, Eric. Fearless Creating. A Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Completing Your Work Of Art. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1995. “A truly motivating book.”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Leland, Nita. The Creative Artist. Cincinnati: North Light Books, 1990. The New Creative Artist. New York: F+W Media, Inc.; Revised edition 2006. “Fun activities to exercise your creative muscle.”

After you have found and read these books, try using these following 5 steps to regain some creativity in your next art project.

  1. Be expressive, spontaneous and free. Skills, originality and quality are unimportant.
  2. Be inventive. Look at various things possible. Show ingenuity with materials, techniques and methods.
  3. Be innovated. Modify the basic assumptions of aesthetics (the nature of the artist, the role of the art, and the relationship between the viewer and the work of art). An understanding of the principles of art leads to new ideas and methods of working.
  4. Be productive and non-judgmental.
  5. Be emergentive. Discover uniqueness by going far beyond tradition.

Do not let old habits or society alter your course as you pursue the journey of rethinking and rebuilding your creativity. Perceive the thrill of creating something distinct and feel a degree of mastery of your environment by going beyond tradition.

Comparing Fiction and Art

Writing fiction, whether it’s a short story or a novel, is very much like painting a picture. Once I have an idea of what I want (usually after doing several sketches), I stand/sit before my easel/word processor and begin painting/writing quickly while the idea is fresh in my mind. A line is drawn and a sentence is created. A color is placed and a paragraph is written. A series of tonal marks are made and paragraphs become pages, and pages become chapters. Quickly, the skeleton of that earlier idea is on canvas in a preliminary, underpainting stage I call “scribble art” and in a first draft on paper I call “the naked man begging to be clothed.”

Both art and fiction strive for one thing: Realism. Realism clothes both with maturity. The lack of it results in whether our paintings or books look or feel true to life. To get there, the artist and writer must never hide their emotions from their audience. If they never shed a tear or burst out laughing while painting or writing a mood, neither will their audience.

Various design principles weave through the fabric of art and stories. Utilizing these principles is stage two and the battle of every artist and writer because this is where he or she must decide whether to follow or disregard any of them. When I do disregard the principles, there is usually some compensating merit achieved by the violation. In other words, I don’t break the rules until I know the rules. Beginners are best off to abide by the principles.

I find that the design elements of art and writing are related. In both, we have to know how important roles are before we can conclude the project we’re working on. This is where I ask, “Where does each element in my picture/story stand in relation to each other?” In art and in writing, I do the work by always thinking of Shape, Texture, Space and Form. My subjects need to look a certain way and exist a certain way in relation to others. As I create them and the world they live in, I keep in mind how important Unity, Harmony, and Balance are, as well as Hierarchy and Dominance, and Similarities and Contrasts within the environment. All this construction leads the viewer’s eyes when looking at art, and leads the reader’s curiosity through the story. Therefore, I always ask, “Where do I want this scene to go?”

Earlier, I mentioned realism as the major function of art and fiction. Fiction is all about tension, conflict and resolution for the main character. The forces of man, nature, religion, politics, and society push and pull at him or her, and they struggle with these forces to find their place in the story. The same is true in art. The important elements of art show themselves like the important character conflicts in a story, with each major element weaved into a unified tapestry. Plus, if you can convey the symbolism and metaphor in your art and fiction, it can further help with unifying the design elements across your canvas and book.

I mentioned also that I don’t break the rules of design until I know them. This is when I become creative and inventive with my work. As with my paintings, I try to show in my stories the early and middle stages of their creation. I leave some of the “naked man” and “stage two” writing visible. (You can see this in the apple orchard painting below.) Showing these different levels of finish or completion prevents a slick, mechanical looking product and enriches the work (both art and story) with multiple levels of interpretation. Isn’t it wonderful to look at a painting again or reread a book and find something new?

A Brief Pause in an Apple Orchard
Apple Orchard, Oil Painting

If you’re an artist and/or writer who struggles with your work, remember to learn all you can about the rules of design. But know that following all the principles of design can result in that slick and mechanical looking work I mentioned. If your art and/or stories end up like that, the contemporary American painter Helen Van Wyk (1930 – 1994) said to “make it, break it, and make it again.” In other words, if it looks or feels wrong to you, do it over. Just don’t overdo it. Let the painting with all its blemishes (not carelessness) speak for itself. Let the story with all its scars (not poor grammar and spelling) speak for itself. If you were honest and true to yourself, your art, and your audience during the entire process, someone will see your honesty and truthfulness and find them beautiful. Anything else will be a lie.

A Look At Being An Artist

“An artist is a product of life, a social creature. Of necessity he cannot mingle with people as much as he would like, but he reaches them through his work. The artist is a spectator of life. He understands it without needing to have physical experiences. He doesn’t need to participate in adventures. The artist is inter­ested in life the way God is interested in the universe. The artist has his own life to live; he has to pause and select and find something to say about it. In his work he seeks to express his understanding with all earnestness.” John Sloan, American painter (1871-1951)

I love being an artist. Like many artists, I am not a creature comfortable with assembly, i.e., a gathering. I love my alone time in front of my easel, away from people. When I’m with people, my mind is always at work in the background, imagining and creating, shoving to the foreground ideas that feel important. I find it difficult at times to concentrate at meetings when my mind is busy working on my next art project. Sloan knew this about artists. He said, “The artist has a song to sing.” I am singing all the time.

Being an artist has made me a somewhat introverted person. A doodler, a scribbler, a dreamer with his head in the clouds. But I wasn’t born introverted, nor was I born an artist. However, being introverted has made me more of an artist. A better artist. In my mind, I take things apart, study them, all within a spacial adventure of color, shape, texture, and design. I do it alone, privately, shaping a thought into form that becomes artwork of my soul to share with the world.

Sometimes sharing is wonderful. And sometimes sharing is not so good. But that’s okay. Art does not please everyone, of which I never try. I don’t believe any artist should create art to suit critics. Neither should artists create to suit buyers, either. Money and prestige have damaged the word artist just as jury exhibitions and awarding prizes are harmful to art. Sloan said, “The artist is in competition with himself only. A bird does not sing beautifully because there is a contest. Great men are not even aware of competition. When people vote about matters of taste, the thing selected is always mediocre, inoffensive, innocuous.”

I exhibit my art to show the world what I’ve done because art is supposed to be seen. Even if it isn’t appreciated, it should never be hidden away. Art should be shown. If it is found to be beautiful, it should never be put on a pedestal and elevated. If it is found to be ugly, it should never be covered or destroyed. Art is art and should never be more or less than that. No worship, no hatred, no political gain, no wars.

If you’re an artist, I say leave the critics by the wayside and create your art.

Whether someone thinks your art is worthy of an award or not, leave the critics by the wayside and create your art.

Whether someone thinks your art is worthy of all the gold in the world, leave the critics by the wayside and create your art.

And more than anything, have fun while doing it.

Like Sloan and countless other artists have said, the only reason we’re in the profession is be­cause it is fun.

Long live art.

A Rant about Amazon Book Reviews

This isn’t a new rant … my friends and family can attest to that. It began when my wife bought me a Kindle a few years ago and I set out reading the self-pub books at Amazon. With so many, many books added to the list each day and with me having so little time to read, I took to glancing at their five-star rating system and choosing books with the most 4- and 5-star ratings (4 for “I like it” and 5 for “I love it”). But many of those books had glaring editing problems, which took away from my reading enjoyment.

On the other hand, I found books with overwhelming 1- and 2-star ratings (1 for “I hate it” and 2 for “I don’t like it”) that I had read and really liked. They contained no editing problems.

I quickly surmised this as a case of different strokes for different folks. Unfortunately, it cancelled the rating system’s effectiveness for me. After all, some books had as many 1- and 2-star ratings as 4- and 5-star ratings. Yep, different strokes for different folks.

But the rating system isn’t my rant.

It was upon further inspection that I found those same books had contradicting bad and good reviews. For example, the following reviews for one book at Amazon gave me the following information:

  • A Disappointment. Do not waste your time reading this drivel. Lots of errors. A self-published nightmare.
  • Well written. Interesting read. Very good plot. Held my interest during the whole time I was reading.
  • Poorly researched. Poorly plotted. Poorly edited. Altogether a poorly written book.
  • Very well written. Good story. I look forward to reading more from this author.

I know firsthand that readers bring their own expectations to a story. And when an author goes in an unexpected direction and/or ends a story shy of those expectations, a reader may give the book a low score out of disappointment of its plot. Plot is fickle. What forms a good plot today may not be so in a hundred years or less.

But when sides cannot agree whether a book is written poorly or written well, then someone clearly misunderstands the concept of what establishes each. It’s one or the other. A book that has grammar and spelling errors is a book written poorly, no matter how well readers find its author’s plotting, research and characters to be. In other words, if you tell me that a book is written well, then you’re saying it has very few if any spelling and syntax errors. Vice versa if you tell me a book is written poorly. Anything else, like plot, research, characterization, is biased expectations. If Joe Smo didn’t get the girl at the end of a romance novel, then good for the author for writing something outside the straightjacket that’s been strangling that genre for ages. But don’t say it’s a poorly written book because its plot dashed your expectations.

Thankfully, Amazon includes a nice “look inside” feature that allows potential buyers to peruse the first few pages of a book they’re considering buying so they can get a feel of how the story flows. If I see spelling and syntax errors while I’m looking inside, I may choose to pass on purchasing and reading the book. Or I may buy it and end up reading a well told story with spelling and syntax errors because more than one thoughtful reviewer said they gave the book four or five stars because they “liked” or “loved” the book’s plot and characters despite the spelling and syntax errors.

Reviews need to be clear to give potential readers the facts.

A review like “A Disappointment; Do not waste your time reading this drivel; Lots of errors; A self-published nightmare,” next to a review that says, “Well written; Interesting read; Very good plot; Held my interest during the whole time I was reading,” means that someone found the errors problematic while reading a story that someone else found interesting with its “very good” plot. Imagine how beneficial it would have been to those of us considering buying the book if the earlier listed reviews had been written this way:

  • “I did not like this book because of its spelling and syntax errors.”
  • “I liked this book because its plot held my interest during the time I was reading.”
  • “I did not like this book because I believe that it is poorly researched, plotted, and edited.”
  • “I liked this book because I thought the story was good. I look forward to reading more from this author.”

This, of course, takes effort on the reviewers’ part to be honest and direct, omitting their personal feelings in the forms of biting remarks and flowery praise. If all reviewers did that, it would make shopping for books at Amazon a lot easier.