It is because of a friend’s idea (the bride pictured) I was able to capture spontaneous and staged photographs of her running around in her bridal gown. This is an instance where idea definitely drove the creation.

On and off I’ve had a conversation with an artist friend. She feels like she hasn’t made any work this year and is blocked because she hasn’t had any good ideas. Yet, the ideas she shares with me are amazing. They are interesting mixing of materials, unique reinterpretations of design, etc. Yet, she feels she isn’t an artist because these ideas are not directed by meaning or concept. I keep arguing otherwise but she keeps harping on herself about exactly that and how possibly can she be an artist if she lets material drive her creativity?

That is exactly why I’m driven to write this blog. I can think of countless artists who have made quotes along the lines of: “I let the critics sort the meaning, I just do the work.” Since when is everything first driven by concept? Look at Surrealism, a movement driven by the subconscious and dreams; how could we possibly create in a Surrealist mode of art if we planned everything out first?

I wonder when academia began to get in the way of artists? Both of us are art teachers and I often think our demand for our students to understand concepts and theory behind their creation impedes our own creativity. When students feel stuck by this mode of thinking, I tell them to make for art’s sake. I argue the sheer act of creation imbues a work with meaning, even if the artist him or herself does not fully understand the work at first. And it is this pressure of sound concept and strong idea that blocks many an artist. I think this notion could well impact artists outside of visual arts as well. I once wrote a lot of poetry. If I spent my time first thinking about meaning I would have never taken the time to write out ideas I had when I woke up in the middle of the night, which were my strongest poems!

Here is an artwork I created completely spontaneously. There was no planning, no conscious consideration of idea, yet this work of mine, entitled Through The Nose, was exhibited at the Kennedy Center in D.C. Which work is more authentic of the two I’ve shared today? What if I told you I discovered the meaning of this work well after its creation?

It frightens me to think people I know are full of so many good ideas that could help make this world better hold back because of exactly that kind of thought process. I do think there is room to analyze, reflect and theorize, but must it come first? Through the creation of a body of work, can’t the idea begin to show itself?

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How do other creatives manage the creation and meaning dilemma? Must you have your idea and concept evident in the work from the beginning? Does your creative process lead you to your idea? Share below.

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