Creativity or Discipline?: Art Matters

What is the relationship between discipline and creativity? On the surface, these things seem to be opposites. Discipline implies consistency and regularity. Creativity suggests variety and spontaneity. What is the image of discipline in the US? What is our idea of creativity? What is the reality?

Creativity comes from a variety of places, including trauma. Art is sometimes a response to an emotional need, to a state of shock. The thing is, not everyone who experiences trauma creates art, and not all experiences are equally traumatizing. 

Will power, or the continuity of choice, is one of the factors that transforms traumatic feelings into creativity.  What is the difference between someone who is damaged by a traumatic experience versus someone who is able to transfigure their pain into poetry? It is their willingness to practice. Of course, not all art comes from traumatic feelings.

Another aspect of creativity is choice. Creativity isn’t found in one thing or another. Creativity is the ability to choose.  Art can be any combination of aesthetic qualities. There are no rules as to what can qualify as art. Making a creative decision, a decision to go in a creative direction and to practice a formal constraint, is definitely one of the ways to look for creativity. 

What decisions have been made? What choices can we make now? What is the basis of a creative choice? What makes up an art direction?

Creativity is the conception of form.

Discipline is sticking with a program of work designed to create growth. To be disciplined is to possess self-control, to know one’s limits, to act within a safe and measured sphere of possibility. It is also to act consistently. When disciplined practice creates strength, there is more control in the execution of decisions. The strength gained from practice brings the line drawn by the hand closer to the mind’s idea.

Creativity derives from passion. Deeply caring about anything leads to opinion and the repetition of opinion creates style. A passion for form leads to the discipline of style. 

The subject of a work also has a lot to do with the interaction between creativity and discipline. The loss of a love can lead to a loss of passion, and instead of being productive creativity becomes cathartic. Instead of being driven by a desire to make great work, the artist who is heart-broken uses creative expression to cope with the feelings. 

Imagine Jeff Koons versus Mark Rothko. Koons is an artist who conceives of ideas and blueprints for the making of a spectacular visual object. His work is not expressive but conceptual. He is not using art to express something personal as much as he is performing for art. He is making aesthetic and conceptual, formal, choices to create something for the world.

Expressionist artists, like Rothko or Pollock, use creativity to vent their anguish, to express their tragic sense of time. Both routes end up creating something new, something valuable. The expressionists, however, ended up killing themselves and Jeff Koons is one of the wealthiest artists of all time. 

The value in art is derived from the desire of collectors and institutions to preserve the work of artists for future generations. Once an artist reaches art historical status, their work is almost immediately valuable.

People get too serious about art when money is involved, and it is always involved. It takes discipline to keep a sense of humor. You have to stick to your decisions. 

The tragic artist seems more authentic to us in some ways. There is very little sense of discipline in the tragic artist because they are fueled by trauma, not will power. The tragic artist is living on borrowed time. Creativity is a drug for the tragic artist, and it is just a matter of time before it becomes impossible to re-up.

The pop artist doesn’t use their public work to express their private feelings, but instead takes the task of making an art object as a kind of engineering challenge. 

Discipline and creativity are never neutral forces and so it requires an understanding of an individual and their context to really get down to the nitty gritty. What is the purpose of discipline and creativity in your work? Do you tend to feel more creative when you are emotional or does emotion come out of doing the work?

The purpose of the discipline is to earn trust. Through the repeated performance of a task, we inherit an artist’s belief in their project. 

Why do we need creativity? Where do we need it? 

You would think that making pretty things to look at wouldn’t be super high on our list of priorities in a world that has so many serious problems. 

Creativity always starts with a question about form. How would it look if we did this…? What would a viewer feel if we did that…? How do we make this art object feel a certain way? How can we inspire certain feelings in an audience? The questions create the context for formal experimentation and an artist will use their discipline, their media, to create some answers.

The Work of Landscape Photography

I like to earn my photographs. I don’t think a robot could ever feel that way, but maybe artificial intelligence will include emotional dimensions. Maybe we are not special as human consciousness. Still, I feel better when I do something hard that leads to a great photograph. 

A lot of it has to do with timing. You have to synchronize your life with the light and the landscape. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and if it is hard to get to that place then you have the added reward of achieving something that is difficult. It is not just what the camera can see, but what the body operating the camera feels and why. 

Riding my bike through the mountain trails gives me a ton of physical challenges and a lot of satisfaction. It feels good to climb up to a ridgeline with the power of your own legs and the view is that much sweeter. It also means knowing the trails and how long they take and how fast you can go. It means having enough energy and physical comfort to be able to stop and compose your shots despite the fatigue or the hunger you feel. 

It also adds the element of the unknown. You have some extra elements of chance at work. Getting yourself in the right spot at the right time is much harder when you are riding a bike, but it is also much more rewarding. 

Photoshoot Magic

These are strange times and if we are to be honest, we could use a little magic. Every day, we do the best we can with our circumstances and sometimes all of that hard work pays off in a moment of magic.

Tenisha Hill and Gillian Young are no strangers to hard work or magical moments. It was an honor to have the opportunity to photograph them wearing Synergy Organic Clothing.

On this evening, there was a brisk wind making the cool temps feel downright chilly. We had a short window of light and we made the most of it.

Location, Location, Location: Photography and Natural Light

So much of life depends upon location. Realtors know this better than most, but photographers also are expert in understanding place. Yesterday I photographed my friends Natalia, Antonio and Derek. Natalia and Derek are realtors. Hence, the title.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-20A favorite collaborator over the years, Natalia Lockwood has become a powerhouse broker of homes and it is fun to watch her grow.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-5This is Derek Scranton who was voted Capitola’s “Best Realtor” in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Super nice guy, easy going and fun. Contact him if you are in the market for a home.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-24What a team! Their smiles say it all. We chose Loch Lomond for our shoot, and found some great pockets of light along the lake. FYI, you are allowed to visit the lake for fishing and hiking, but no hanging out, as we learned.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-26The homie Antonio is a capoeira master and with supreme flexibility he busted out some moves real quick. JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-27Had to take the opportunity to get a few shots of one of my favorite couples.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-28By the way, Antonio and I talked about podcasts the whole time. He’s the only person I know who loves podcasts as much as I do. Always fun to link up with kindred souls.

JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-29What are your favorite podcasts? Going to be brainstorming some ideas with Antonio. Could be something cool in the works! These are wild times and we need to be discussing the issues.JJT.14.June.2020.Natalia.Antonio.Derek-21

Mountain Cure

With all of the tragedy going on in the world, mental health is super important and hard to come by. Exercise is key for my mental well being. So is being in nature. With a camera on my back, I jumped on my bike to put in some miles on the trails to achieve both goals and to make some photographs in the pretty early-summer light.JJT.13.June.2020I’ve been thinking a lot about how photography is so much more than a way of documenting the world, and when I experiment with long exposure blurs it sometimes matches how I feel better than a tack sharp image. I like to experiment with drawing with the light. It decomposes the image and shows how cameras work while using all of the points of light to draw lines. JJT.13.June.2020-26I think that there is a value to both kinds of photographs: experimental and documentary. While I enjoy the feeling of experimenting with a camera to get surprising results there is also something really rewarding about a photograph that looks and feels like the world it was made in.JJT.13.June.2020-5JJT.13.June.2020-24JJT.13.June.2020-4JJT.13.June.2020-7JJT.13.June.2020-3

Same Sun

A huge part of being a photographer is studying light, just like a writer pays attention to language. It is the medium. The camera is a tool that uses light to render images about subjects. Therefore, we need to be very familiar with the ever-changing qualities of light.JJT.Anna.SV.web-6One of the ways I make a practice of studying light is by continually being out in the landscape. Hiking, mountain biking, always being out there with a camera is critical to knowing your light and locations. When you study light for a living you learn that the difference between various kinds of light can range from excruciating to ecstatic. Riding your bike mid day facing the sun without shades is a blinding and painful experience, especially during summer. As the day begins to transpire and the earth starts to cool there is a window of beautiful light that softens and illuminates subjects with a distinctly magical effect. It’s the same sun, but radically different light.JJT.Anna.SV.web-8For this shoot, I was visiting the location for the first time. This meant that I did not know when the light would disappear over the horizon. Located north of Santa Cruz in the mountains there are canyons and ravines that get dark a lot earlier than it does along the coastline. This means that the last direct light is going to be brighter, but it also has the potential of showing up in beams that work like spotlights.JJT.Anna.SV.web-10The chiaroscuro effect has always been a favorite due to the dramatic interplay of dark and light and can really help the subject to pop in the composition. By positioning Anna directly in a beam of light there is a wonderful contrast to the light softening as dusk arrives.JJT.Anna.SV.web-20After the direct light is gone at a mountain location like this, there is still a lot of wonderful soft light that you can use to create brighter more evenly lit compositions. With a little bit of backlit highlight in her hair, I like the warm rural feel of the above shot. Anna is originally from Russia, and there’s something really cool to me about the look of traditional Russian clothing in Northern California settings.JJT.Anna.SV.print-23Portraiture is a dynamic challenge of using light and location to create interesting and pleasing compositions featuring the subject. Knowing your light is as important as knowing the technical aspects of your craft so that you can give all of your attention to the subject during the shoot.JJT.Anna.SV.print-25Another great thing to do with portraiture is to incorporate the life of the subject. Anna wanted to get some photos with her cat and it really brought out some of her personality. You can see it in her smile. How about that expression on the cat?JJT.Anna.SV.print-28This photo really succeeds at Portraying Anna to me, because in the gesture of her arms holding her cat and in her expression slightly laughing at the experience you can see the way she sounds and who she is.

Natural Style

Richie Schmidt in SC

Surfing with style is hard to do, it’s an art form with a steep learning curve (ba dum dum cha).

Drawing lines

Richie Schmidt draws lines in the water like a painter attacking a wall.

Ramps that move and break

Richie’s surfing is a reminder that when you have a passion for your craft the results show in your style.

Positive Energy Express

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With all of the strange changes going down right now, it’s important to be able to find ways to adjust your attitude, especially if you do creative work. What gives you a fresh look at things? For me, one of the surest ways to regain my sense of humor and to renew my will to be productive is exercise. Physical activity helps me to stay in a good frame of mind.

 

I’ve been pushing myself to hike lots of miles during these weeks and that has been a super productive and inspiring practice. Hiking plays a key role in me being my best self and living my best life. I get out to some remote locations during obscure lighting situations for the rarest of photo opportunities. Since photography is writing with light, it helps to have as much information about the terrain you will be describing and the light you will be using.

 

That is one of your biggest jobs as a photographer. Know the landscape. Because it changes day by day, the seasonal variations you experience are invaluable knowledge to getting the best shots. Hiking is ideal for this kind of practice because of the slow and deliberate nature of the decision to go on foot.

 

Although I love the minimalism of hiking, especially when I leave on foot from my door, there is another tool I love to use to explore the landscape and that is a bike. One of our greatest inventions of all time: the bicycle. What a slice of freedom a bike can be.

 

I’ve been teaching my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels for the past week and seeing the amount of joy she gets just by pedaling down the street with me on a skateboard beside her is about the best feeling I have ever had. It reminded me of that pure feeling of freedom you get from movement, with the wind in your face and the ground moving fast underneath you everything feels a lot better. Going fast is fun. Of course, it comes with danger, and learning to be safe is a big part of the project, but seeing the release, especially in this time of emotional confusion and frustration is a beautiful thing.

 

I have also been watching the homeboy Brendan Schaub become a mountain biking maniac. His podcast The Fighter and the Kid, with Bryan Callen, has been a bright source of positive energy during this quarantine, because he refuses to give into the fear and steadfastly keeps finding ways to make the most of his days. For a guy with millions of dollars, he is getting out and mixing it up on the trails and I think it is about as pure and inspiring a project as I have seen.

 

I have also been seeing one of my friends, Natalie Earl, posting about her own bike rides. Getting out for some fresh air and sweating out some worries is a great idea and so I linked up with Nat for a ride. We left from her house and wound our way through weekend traffic up the coast.

 

There’s something so vital and almost primal about getting around on a bike.  It forces you to tap into your instincts. You need your gut to guide you. And the rhythm that develops from dodging traffic gives you a kind of sense of flow that is very much related to creativity.

 

So, this week I joined the Thiccc Boy Bike Club with my friend Natalie and I’m hoping that we can continue to find some joy and release by hitting the road. I’m not going to be giving up hiking, though, because there is no replacing the intimacy of being out in the wild on foot where you can encounter the details and the animals on an even footing.

 

What are you doing to keep your energy positive? How are you getting exercise while staying safe during these strange times?

Songwriter with a Guitar

Hard times call for simple measures. No room for anything that doesn’t make sense. Less is the new black. Well, clear your listening schedule to make room for something soulful. Anthony Arya‘s music is a recipe for enthusiasm in a bleak cultural moment.Anthony.Arya.BW.Wrigley

The path of the independent artist matters because it is the purest way to fulfill a vision. Stand-up comics who don’t have to defend their jokes to a network have the chance to speak truth while making people laugh. A writer with a computer can create an intellectual movement. And a songwriter with a guitar can make music that is true and that reflects their love of music.

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What a person can do with some simple tools and artistic will is amazing. We live in a time when art is available to us at all times, and there are multiple channels to publish your own work. The freedom of speech has never had more power, and using our time to to debate and to create new forms is more important than ever.

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Anthony Arya released his second album this week, and the world is a richer place for it. Arya is about to graduate from high school is on his way to Stanford next fall and is leaving a path of dancing feet, smiling faces and happy people in his wake. Check out The Road on Apple iTunes to experience the latest work from a great young American songwriter and performer.

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We make the world.  Being born and dying off and in the middle of this maddening froth of grief and fear, the role of music and art is essential: it helps us to understand the ineffable.

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Barney Moon

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One of the side effects of the shutdown, the shelter in place order, or whatever you call this corona virus crisis is weeds. Great bushy volunteers crowding unkept sidewalks. We are in the middle of a drought. Otherwise the weeds would have swallowed us all up by now.

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The stay home order has given people a renewed appreciation for simple things like a walk through your neighborhood park. The last light on Cypress trees indicates the setting of the sun.

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I like to use a 400mm lens to photograph the landscape, especially when the moon is going to be a good subject.

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The almost full moon making us all remember that we are in this together.

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Spring brings winds and longer days to Santa Cruz. You can feel Summer on its way.

JJT.5.May.2020-93Before long, the Southern Hemisphere will awaken and send us powerful long period south swells.

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Last night as I walked back from photographing the moon, I saw a couple of great waves smoking and spitting and generally rolling through in true Steamer Lane fashion right as I passed Barney’s bench. I have some theories about what he’d be doing during this time, but I’ll save those for a podcast sometime.