The Artistic Process

Other essays in this series

This is a series of 4 essays centered on Alain's approach to artistic expression These essays are titled as follows:

1 - Finding Inspiration (available)
2 - Exercising your Creativity (available)
3 - Developing your Vision (available)
4 - Achieving your Personal Style (Scheduled for August 07 delivery)

Together these four essays are represent, first, an exploration of the too-rarely discussed subject of inspiration and creativity, and second a road map towards the development of a vision and the achievement of a personal style unique to you.

Each essay features a set of Skill Enhancement Exercises that allow you to practice and develop your skills on your own

The Essays

1 - Finding Inspiration - excerpt from the 20 pages essay

Section 2 - The difference between inspiration, creativity and vision

Inspiration lights the spark of creativity.
Together, if well integrated, they result in a personal vision for our work. 
In turn, Personal Style allows us to express our vision in a unique manner.
Alain Briot

As I just mentioned, when I started reflecting and writing about inspiration and all that it entails I thought that I was addressing only the act of being inspired. However, as I reflected further upon the subject, I realized that I was also writing about the act of being creative, about the discovery of a personal vision and eventually about the development of a personal style.

Why make things more complicated you may ask?  Why not keep things under one name –inspiration—and write about all of this at once?  Because breaking the subject into 4 parts is really the only way to make this subject easier to understand.  Separating what is usually considered a single subject into four parts allows me to study this subject in greater detail than has been done so far.  In turn, this approach allows me to gain better insights upon the artistic process and upon how each part of this process dovetails into the other parts.  In the end, I believe that this is the only way to truly address this important subject with the depth of thinking that it requires.

At this point I think it is best to start by explaining the differences between inspiration, creativity, vision and personal style:

A-One can be inspired without being creative
In other words one can find a wonderful source of inspiration and be motivated to create art without knowing how to physically translate the ideas generated by this inspiration into a work of art.  In photography, one can be inspired by a beautiful landscape, or a stunning sunset, without seeing a specific composition and without feeling the urge to create a specific image from this landscape.  For example, one can stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon and be inspired to create artwork that expresses one’s personal experience of the Grand Canyon.  This inspiration may stem from the personal experience of admiring the beauty of Grand Canyon, or it may also come from the realization that none of the artwork currently for sale at Grand Canyon expresses in a satisfying manner what it feels like to be there.  In this situation the artist feels inspired to go beyond what other artists have previously created.  However, for this to happen the artist needs to transform inspiration into images, a process that takes place through creativity.

B- One can be extremely creative without being particularly inspired
This is often the case when first trying new equipment. For example, I can think of many times when a new camera or new equipment made me feel very creative and motivated me to try all sorts of things, without the outcome being particularly inspired.  The images resulting from this creative urge were different and new to me. However, my inspiration was derived from the new equipment and not from a personal desire to fulfill a previous idea. In other words, my inspiration did not come from the subject that I normally photograph, in my case the natural landscape.  My inspiration came solely from the equipment I just acquired.  Also, this equipment being new to me, I did not have time to develop the necessary craftsmanship required to create fine art quality images.

C- One can be inspired and creative without fulfilling a personal vision
One can be inspired and have an idea, be very creative in making this idea into a work of art, have developed the required level of craftsmanship, without the outcome of one’s efforts being motivated by the desire to follow a vision for one’s entire body of work.  Vision is an overriding envelope that encompasses both inspiration and creativity.  It is a blanket that covers the entire artist’s work, a blanket that often comes later in the life of an artist, after one has perfected one’s art and moved beyond the commonplace outcome that most artists have to go through.  For this reason I placed vision as the third step of this process.  I placed it there not because it comes necessarily at the end of the process but because in life it is often something that artists discover later on.

D- Finally, one can have a personal vision without having yet developed a personal style
One can have vision without having found a style through which this vision will be effectively expressed.  Without a style, a vision remains an unfulfilled dream.  Without a style vision remains just that: vision.  It remains something that is seen by the artist but which has not taken a physical reality yet.  Without a style vision remains something that exists only in the artist’s mind.  Vision cannot be effectively expressed through a commonplace style, a mundane style we may say, or a style used by many other artists.  When vision is expressed through a commonplace style, this vision does not have the ability to impact the viewer in a meaningful way.  This vision does not have a chance to stand out as being different and unique.  Rather, this vision blends with the general artistic landscape and becomes relatively unnoticeable.  It becomes akin to déjà vu, to a vision that has already been seen and a style that has already been done.  To truly stand out, to truly be noticed, to truly become meaningful to an audience, a personal vision needs to be expressed through a personal style.  To be effective this personal style must be new to the audience.  To be new to the audience this style needs to have been created by the artist.

This 20 pages essay is continued in the full essay available in my books and eBooks

2 - Exercising your Creativity - excerpt from the 20 pages essay

Section 6 - Fear of Failure

One is not really a photographer until preoccupation with learning has been outgrown
and the camera in his hands is an extension of himself.
This is where creativity begins.
Carl Mydans

To be creative, to use our imagination towards creating original art, we must do something new, something that we have most likely never done before. Doing something we have not done before carries with it the risk of failure essentially because we have to learn how to do this new thing from scratch.  For many of us, whenever there is risk there is fear, in this case fear of failure.  Fear of failure is one of the main things that can stifle our creativity.

It is important to understand that there is no such thing as a failure. What there is are failed attempts.  However, a failed attempt does not mean absolute failure. It only means that this one time things did not work. 

Examples are best to exemplify this point.  For example, Babe Ruth struck out more times than anyone else. However, he was also the leader in the number of homeruns for a long time. Thomas Edison failed over 400 times before he found the right way to build a light bulb. When asked about all these apparent failures, Edison said that he had discovered over 400 ways to not create a light bulb.  To him, these attempts were not failures.  They were successes in the sense that each attempt allowed him to narrow the field of possibilities.  Eventually, the one way that worked was the one that was left out of all the others he had tried and that did not work.

Success, eventually, is a state of mind.  So is failure, which can be seen as success when you look at it the way Babe Ruth or Thomas Edison looked at it.  You can become depressed because of your failures or you can get energized by them because you look at them not as failures but as attempts that are paving the road to success.

As an artist you will rarely succeed on your first try.  This is especially true if you are trying new ways to represent the world and to express your vision.  A certain amount of trial and error is necessary, and a certain amount of failure is to be expected.  If you let your failures discourage you, you will not maintain your creativity. Instead, you will be creative for some time, and then fall into depression when you fail to be successful at your first attempts. 

In a way, if we follow this logic, success is the result of not giving way to failure.  Success is continuing to try in the midst of repeated failures because we believe that there is a solution to the problem we are working on and that it is only a matter of time until we find this solution. In this respect failures are nothing else but valid attempts that did not materialize into the outcome we expected.

A failure is certainly a setback.  It is a setback that shows the limits of our knowledge. We failed not because we are inept, or lack talent, or are incapable of success.  No.  We failed because we lack the proper knowledge to succeed. The solution is not to fall into depression or self-pity. The solution is to find ways to acquire the knowledge we need to succeed.  The process of acquiring this knowledge is what will enable us to expand our current boundaries.  Knowledge is what will make us go beyond our actual limitations. 

We have therefore two solutions in front of what is, as we just saw, lack of knowledge: first, self pity, which leads nowhere but to a circular pattern of depression and blame, and second seeking new knowledge that will allow us to exceed our current limitations and place us on the road to success.  The first solution leads to failure; the second leads to success, be it in regards to liberating our creativity or in regards to any other endeavor.

When looking at failure this way you soon realize that failure is a door that one can decide to push open or not.  One can look at the door and say, “This door will never open for me.”  Or, one can say, “I can open this door. I just need to learn how to do that.”  Failure, when looked at this way, is the opportunity to open new doors.  These doors lead to a greater version of us, a version we currently ignore but whose potential is there.  We just need to go and get it.

The fear associated with deciding to open this door or not lies in the fact that what is beyond the door is unknown. In other words, there is a risk, and this risk is that we will step into something unfamiliar, something beyond our comfort zone. By staying in front of the door in self-pity we are actually staying within our comfort zone.  By deciding to learn how to open the door we are stepping into the unknown and leaving our comfort zone.

Taking the risk of stepping into the unknown carries with it the possibility that a reward awaits us once the door is opened.  It carries with it the elation of new possibilities that will present themselves later on.  In my experience this reward far exceeds the risks that creative endeavors bring with them.

This 20 pages essay is continued in the full essay available by subscription to Briot's View

3 - Developing your Vision - excerpt from the 20 pages essay

Section 9 - Do not lose your vision

The true tragedy in life is not death
but that which dies inside of us while we are still living.
Norman Cousins

The conclusion to the previous section is that you will not find your vision by attempting to photograph or work with a subject that is not yours.  And, as an extension of this fact, you will not express the fullness of your vision working with a subject that you do not love or that you are not excited about. You must be photographing what you love and what you are passionate about for your vision to fully express itself and become a reality.

There is a difference between liking something and loving something.  For example, I like to photograph sports cars. However, I do not have a burning passion for sports car photography.  The interest is there because I like sports cars, not because I want to express a personal photographic vision regarding the cars. For me, the problem is that a car is not something that I can modify at will.  A car is more the mark of its manufacturer than the mark of the photographer who takes a picture of it.  Eventually, for me the subject becomes repetitive. There are only so many headlights, fenders, emblems, engines, body shapes, side panels and the like that I can photograph until they become a blur of similar subjects and I become bored working with them.  In the end, I prefer driving them more than photographing them.

I am sure a car photographer who truly loves this subject will disagree with me and find just as many positive reasons to photograph cars as I have listed reasons not to photograph cars.  If such is your situation just know that I applaud you.  I applaud you because you truly love what you do and you will not let someone else’s opinion of your favorite subject change your mind.

Such is the case for me with landscape photography.  I have not tired of doing landscape photography since I started in 1980.  In fact, I have not tired of admiring the landscape since the day I was born, or rather since the day I was able to understand what nature is, whenever that happened.  To me the landscape is never the same.  The seasons, the time of day, the variations of light, weather and other natural conditions mean that the same exact situation cannot happen again.  It also means that even though I spend a lot of time outdoors, I am unlikely to witness the same event several times.  Each day, each new instance of a natural event, is unique. 

Furthermore, I find that the possibilities for personal expression in landscape photography are equally endless.  Each new idea, each new camera, each new improvement in equipment, each new piece of software, each new location, and each new visit to a previously visited location means that a new level of artistic achievement can be reached if one puts-in the required amount of time and effort.  These new tools, these new visits to places that I love, when combined with my passion for the landscape generate new ideas that in turn bring renewed inspiration.  I have not tired of this subject since I started working with it, and I doubt I will tire of it in the future.  For me, this is what I love to do, and because of this passion my vision for the landscape is the clearest of any of the subjects I have worked with so far.

This 20 pages essay is continued in the full essay available in my books and eBooks

4 - Achieving your personal Style - excerpt from the 21 pages essay
An except from this essay will be available following the publication of the essay in August 2007

Alain Briot


Essay Copyright © Alain Briot 2007
All rights reserved worldwide