The Creative Process

Similar to the question of “What is art?” everyone has a different creative process. One creative journey is never exactly the same as another. However, there are some common elements, some considerations which are beneficial to contemplate, and these elements are the subject of this post.

I quite like Damien Newman’s, of Central Office of Design, design squiggle (depicted above) as a starting place.

The upper most categories I think are most generally relevant to the creative process. You start with a high level of uncertainty and slowly through a process of somewhat chaotic progressive elaboration move towards clarity and focus, and a finished piece of art. I think this wonderfully depicts how you rarely end up where you initially planned to. Through the creative process, you learn, you adapt, you modify, you refine, you change, you contemplate and eventually you decide you are done.

Phase 1: The initial idea.
In general the creator starts with an initial idea… it might be, I want to go out today into my hometown and take photographs, or it might be I want to write a poem for peace, or it might be I want to capture the essence of the human experience in mixed media… there’s something there, a spark that gets the creator off the proverbial couch.

Phase 2: Discernment
This is the doing and reflecting phase. You might take some notes about your initial idea, get it down on paper, you might just go out and start taking photographs, you might pick up a book on the subject or you might start the first few strokes of your next painting. After you’ve taken a few steps forward, at some level, conscious or super-conscious, you reflect on these few steps, getting a sense if your are heading in the right direction.

Phase 3: Refinement
During this phase we make modifications to what we are working on based on input from the Discernment phase. This loop may have a small time horizon; “I thought I wanted the fire hydrant off centre, but maybe centered is better”, the photographer is moving the camera and comparing the refined frame in the view finder. Or it may have a long time horizon; the first draft of the novel is complete, but I must make Ted pass Julie in the coffee shop, unaware, in chapter one, I’ve previously discerned that this will help bring the story together…

Discernment and Refinement are tightly coupled, and continue in an iterative cycle until the Completion phase of the creative process arrives.

Phase 4: Completion
Sometimes the hardest part is knowing when you are done, and that is what this final phase is all about. Everybody does it differently, and sometimes it might just be that you’re out of time.

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