On Teaching Self-expression

Baboon footprints on my car window at dawn. Shot by me using Hipstamatic app on my iPhone. Whose identity? Whose creative expression? Any originality?

“I don’t have any problem with using others’ concepts and putting your vision onto them but straight out shooting to look like someone else isn’t going to get you (or anyone else) very far. Surely we are photographers because we want to share our personal vision of the world with others, much like writers and painters. We create something which expresses how WE see the world, not how we think others want us to see the world.”

So writes photographer, “digital artist” and blogger Mark Ivkovic on a post titled “Lacking Curiosity” on his bang | Photography blog.

On the same day, fellow Briton Gillian Holding titles her blog post with a question: Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

“Of course, if you think of creative writing or art as simply the outcome of a process of applying a specific skill set, then there is a strong argument for saying yes, it can be taught. Skills can be taught to anyone who wants to learn,” she writes.

You know there’s a “but” coming up, don’t you?

“But then as any artist/writer/musician will recognise there’s rules and then there’s the rest of it. The unquantifiable, the ineffable, the x factor. The work product which rises out of and in spite of and above the rule-guided product. The spark, the life, the essence. Can this be taught?”

I find myself reading her blog with personal interest, challenged by her comment on the “fashionable delusion these days that everything can and needs to be taught. Yet whilst this clearly applies to skills of all sorts, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can teach the mindsets which lead to great novels, wonderful art and memorable music.” You see, I have increasingly found lately that some of my most rewarding hours are working with clients and their text. People who have incredible stories to tell; important things to say. And I try to draw it out of them in the most readable, flowing, inspiring way. I find myself thoroughly energized by these interactions, finding my own creativity is heightened as I develop vision and strategy for how to get this story across best, most engagingly, yet authentically in this author’s voice. And we invariably also need to get the story across in a way that will sell. So the trick is always to articulate the writer’s own vision in their own words. Yet this does not mean we can’t use mechanisms that have worked for others.

I guess Holding is right: All that I can really do “is provide an environment (please follow her fascinating link) in which it can be facilitated and encouraged and nurtured.”

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