Robert Greene author of Mastery offers sage advice on finding and pursuing your own creative mastery.
Topics include …
How to discover your passion and pursue it
What Einstein, Da Vinci, Goethe, Napoleon and other “masters” have in common with each other and with you
How each of us have a unique composition that is our greatest asset
Why choosing a career path that leverages your individuality and sparks curiosity is essential
How an apprenticeship is a necessary step toward achieving mastery and fulfillment
View more creativity videos here.
View my TED and Google talks on creativity here.
I had no intention of making this image; I had left my ‘real’ medium format film camera home and brought a then new digital DSLR, a technology in its infancy at the time, to photograph a new puppy I was bringing home with my family. The drive through the foggy February forests of Maine was beautiful and late in the day as we neared a series of orchards the light turned golden. I stopped with no thought other than to enjoy the moment, making a series of exposures, before continuing on.
While I liked the images I produced that evening, I had no intention of displaying them, until everyone in my studio strongly urged me to do so. Response to these images has continued to be very positive. This one has become one of my top sellers.
This work didn’t fit neatly into the ideas I’ve been developing in my work for decades. It doesn’t present a view of nature seemingly untouched by man. It’s not a wasteland, either devoid of or filled with water. It’s conventionally clear where the life is, in living organisms, drawing attention away from the idea that there might be a spirit in other kinds of things. It didn’t fit for this and other reasons. Yet it was somehow connected. These images lay down a challenge.
As I was describing this process to my workshop participants one day remarking, “I don’t do trees.” one woman remarked, “I don’t think you can say that any more.” Touche. The next morning on my way to class as I considered this further, acknowledging that I had always loved orchards, tending them as a boy and now living in another one, and that I deeply appreciated gardens and agricultural areas and sacred sites where man worked in concert with nature, the phrase came to mind, “Perhaps Eden can be restored, if we give it half a chance.” It’s a thought that runs deep inside all of my work. It’s my hope that what I share will kindle a greater sense of wonder for the natural world and inspire people to participant in it creatively and conscientiously.
That was one of a handful of days where the mission behind my life’s work became clearer and this image played a central part in that process. It’s become an important outlier in my body of work, which I’ve learned a great deal from.
In response, I didn’t decide to go in a new direction. I held to my original course, bringing the work I had already begun to completion – now with a renewed sense of purpose.
What you do with feedback is up to you. I recommend that you seek a lot of feedback from a variety of sources. Know the source of the feedback you receive. Don’t forget to give yourself feedback, the most important source of all. Weigh it all carefully, but make the final choice your own. In the end, it’s your choice. It’s your life’s work. It’s your life. Make it count.
What is good enough? How do you know?
What isn’t good enough? How do you know?
What is too much?
What is perfectly imperfect?
My TED and Google talks have a lot in common. Both discuss creativity as a dynamic process that we all engage in with our own unique orientations to. While there are classic operations we all perform, how we combine them and the uses we put them to. Experimentation and becoming more versatile is the key to turbo-charging your creative life. You’ll find dozens of tips and lots of inspiration in both of these talks.
I spoke about the creative process at Google headquarters a few weeks ago.
I began with the stories behind a few of the photographs I’ve made that have changed the way I think and see.
Then I talked about game changing advances in technology that have expanded the ways I see and changed the way I make photographs.
And I spoke about how using other media (like drawing and writing) can enhance perception and the photographs we make.
Distilled into one line … How an artist gets there influences where they arrive.
Preview my eBook Process here.
View my TED Talk You’re More Creative Than You Think You Are here.
Bring On The Learning Revolution ! – Sir Ken Robinson on TED
Schools Kill Creativity – Sir Ken Robinson on TED
“Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. He challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.”
Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes on creativity.
“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
” Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things . . . Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, if your act of doing is not purely economical, then it is creative.” – Osho
” Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach – how you look at things …” – Osho
”Conditions for creativity are to be puzzled; to concentrate; to accept conflict and tension; to be born everyday; to feel a sense of self.” — Erich Fromm
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook
“Creativity is just connecting things.” — Steve Jobs
“Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas” – Donatella Versace
“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.” — John Cleese
“Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.” – Cecil B. DeMille
“Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” — Dee Hock
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury
“Perspiration is the best form of differentiation, especially in the creative world.” — Scott Belsky
“Creativity isn’t about wild talent as much as it’s about productivity. To find new ideas that work, you need to try a lot that don’t. It’s a pure numbers game.” — Robert Sutton
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” — Joseph Chilton Pierce
“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” — Edwin H. Land
“The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity. He doesn’t need problems solved immediately and can afford to wait for the right ideas.” — Abe Tannenbaum
“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.” — Antony Jay
“The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense.” — Pablo Picasso
“Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.” — Edwin H. Land
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” — Edward de Bono
“A truly creative person rids him or herself of all self-imposed limitations.” — Gerald G. Jampolsky
“Thereʼs no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership.” — Hugh MacLeod
“As competition intensifies, the need for creative thinking increases. It is no longer enough to do the same thing better . . . no longer enough to be efficient and solve problems” — Edward de Bono
“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.” — Edward de Bono
“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” — Theodore Levitt
Sometimes ideas just seem to come out of nowhere. But do they?
We have so many experiences everyday, whether commonplace and routine or extraordinary and novel, it’s hard to say what registers as significant or even important. We’re influenced by so many things – our history, environment, community, actions, etc – that it’s hard to know when one thing leads to another. Often we refashion these materials, sometimes combining them, into something new, so when the resurface it’s not easy to recognize where they came from. What do we connect with? When do we connect with it? Do we know when it happens? Only if we’re mindful.
Awareness of what influences us is something that we can develop. To do this we need to develop a greater sensitivity to our environment and history in it (both personal and cultural) as well as to our actions and attitudes in relation to the activities and tone of our communities. Inquisitiveness is all you need. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t assume you know the answers. Don’t judge yourself or the answers you find along the way. Just collect information. By becoming aware of your influences you’ll be less controlled by them, see more options, and so have more and make clearer choices. Journalling can be an excellent way to develop this discipline and to reflect further on your influences while you’re making new or reviewing old entries. Once you experience the many benefits awareness of your influences brings, you’ll want to cultivate this habit. It can be a source of clarity, of personal insight, and even of purpose. Time and time again, this has been true for me.
Sometimes the insights awareness brings are surprising. One day, after Suffusion I had been hanging on my studio wall for months, I moved a snapshot of my grandmother’s ashes in the ocean (I had been unable to attend her funeral so I kept the photograph my father brought me close for a time.) across my studio. As soon as I saw the two images simultaneously in my field of vision the similarities and connections between them became clear. Since I made it, I had been trying to understand Suffusion I better. I knew some of the undercurrents at work in it; growing concerns about climate change and global warming; the ever-changing nature of existence and perception; watching smoke as a form of meditation; using smoke as a form of prayer. But I hadn’t guessed that it had anything to do with death and cremation. It would be a mistake to say this image – and the other images like it in this series – was about death. It/they are about much, much more. That’s part of what makes them so good. They’re complex.
You might be tempted to say that the influences were simple. The environmental and temporal factors were obvious. A good friend (Timothy Morrissey) had shown me how he photographed smoke and mist in his studio and I made exposures with him. The next day we went fishing and I made more exposures. Much later, I combined images from the two days. But that wouldn’t have explained why I chose to do this; I could have chosen one of thousands of other exposures from other years. Nor would that explain that I liked the results enough to print, frame, and exhibit the results. There was more going on in this image than first met the eye. I knew this, which is why I was still curious about it – and it probably has something to do with why others are curious about it too. I’m still curious. Our best work gets ahead of us and it takes time to catch up to it. Sometimes it continues to reward us for years to come – or even a lifetime.
How many things influence you?
How many things can you do to increase your awareness of what influences you?
What are the best ways to track your influences?
What benefits do you find from looking back on how your influences develop, flow, and grow?
Can you use the insights about your past reactions to inspire new actions?
How many ways can you proactively influence your influences?
Find out more about this image here.
View more related images here.
Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.
Read more about Influences here.
How artists get there is just as important as where they arrive. My new ebook Process examines many aspects of my creative process – writing, drawing, painting, photography, Photoshop, iphoneography and more. Thirty-three chapters are organized into five sections – Color, Composition, Draw, iPhone, Write – showing how each discipline contributes to the completion of finished works of art.
This ebook reveals that an artist’s creations are produced by not one but many activities in many media and that the creative process is a never-ending journey of discovery that offers surprising insights along the way.
192 pages fully illustrated
$9.99 for Insights enews members.
(Email email@example.com for discount code.)
Buy the PDF here
Download a free preview here.
The symmetry is marvelous, but it would be even better if it was rotated a few degrees. The color is rich, but it could be a little more saturated – not too saturated. The shadows are a touch too dark; they need more detail. The space in the center is too empty. What should go in it? A stone? It blocks the entrance. A bone? It brings unwanted associations of death. A tooth? Don’t give Freud the pleasure. How about something non-material like light? That’s it. But a little irregular. Now the environment needs to reflect the new light source. How light should the surrounding walls become? A little lighter, no that’s too light. And lighten only the central arch so that the source of light appears to be in not in front of the canyon walls. That’s it. Are you sure? I’m sure. Are you really sure? That’s enough. So it went, my dialog with my inner critic as I made this image – Enchambered. My inner critic would have been either maddening or demoralizing if I hadn’t come to trust it so much over the years.
Your inner critic can be a terrible adversary or a powerful ally. Which one it becomes depends on how you relate to and use it. Like any animal, proper care and feeding can work wonders while neglect and abuse can produce monstrous results.
The inner critic’s powers of analysis and forethought are truly exceptional. It’s a protective mechanism. Its job is to help you avoid potential dangers. It’s excellent at identifying weaknesses or shortcomings that if left uncorrected and allowed to continue unchecked may have adverse affects. It can quickly identify potential areas for improvement. It can provide all sorts of extremely valuable feedback.
But, the inner critic has its limitations. The inner critic speaks from a point of fear. It motivates with fear too. It’s a pessimist. It’s often accurate, but never infallible. Because of this, it isn’t good at being supportive, but instead may create doubt and insecurity. Its criticism may not be constructive, if its feedback isn’t placed in a useful context. If it goes too far astray, its affects can produce negative results and even lead to paralysis.
So how can you turn this powerful voice from enemy into ally? It’s all in your attitude. First consider the inner critic a trusted ally – one with limitations. Call on it whenever you need a good dose of tough love. Give it free reign to speak candidly and fully, for a limited time only. Weigh everything it offers appropriately; remember it’s wearing the opposite of rose colored glasses. Whenever you hear the voice of the inner critic unbeckoned, ask if what it has to offer is helpful. If it is, use its feedback to improve your results. If it’s not, calmly acknowledge it. Tell it you value it as an ally both in the past and in the future, and clearly state the reason(s) you’ve decided to make the choice you’re making. Tell it you will continue to consult with it in the future. You might even give it an alternate project to work on. Stay calm; it can feed on negative emotions. Once you’ve made your decision, be firm. Remember, like a child having a tantrum, there may be times it needs to be silenced; give it a time out. It can take a lot of energy to manage your inner critic well, so afterwards (There must be an afterwards; giving the inner critic free reign 24/7 is a recipe for depression.) you may need to take a break or even engage your inner coach to reenergize yourself and return empowered with new perspectives.
The inner critic is most valuable at certain stages in a creative process. The inner critic has little to offer early in the creative process; it’s the kiss of death during brainstorming sessions but it’s very useful afterwards when sifting through the wealth of material that’s produced in them. It becomes increasingly valuable further on in a creative process, particularly at key turning points when evaluating results – identifying and rating strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and performing cost benefit analyses. Often, towards the end of a creative process, it will provide just the thing you need to pull it all together or help you take it up to the next level.
When are evaluative questions and statements most useful?
When are evaluative questions and statements not useful?
What is the most beneficial attitude to approach them with?
What’s the most productive way to ask and state them?
When are they energizing?
When are they enervating?
How do you reconcile conflicting results that are sometimes generated?
How long should you stay in this mode?
When should you stop?
Find out more about this image here.
View more related images here.
Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.
Austin Kleon followed the success of his first book Newspaper Blackout with another Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being An Artist. You can find out more about his thoughts on creativity in these two talks. The first at TED is the short form; the second at Google is expanded.
View more on Newspaper Blackout here.
Find out more about Austin Kleon here.