Ever wondered why some are great at what they do while others perpetually struggle without ever attaining greatness? Ill define it boldly, now – talent!
What is talent?
When enjoying a beautiful piece of music made by an artist which is mutually enjoyable and moving, we tend to call the person whom created it a “talented” individual. We humans do that because most do not possess a background in that particular genre or discipline – and so they default to labelling said artist as “talented” because it’s mentally easier than figuring out “the why” behind what makes it a great song. We perform this mental ritual for the many different genres of creativity by default, subconsciously because it’s the instinct in us which drives us to dictate how we interpret that particular piece of art - is it good, or not? For instance if you’re feeling down and you hear a song in the right key, with the right tempo, with the right timbre of voice it can alter your mood drastically – thus, because of the positive change the song creates in your mood, your psyche interprets that as "great", which leads up to you labelling that song writer favourably. But what drives our “inner voice”, or instinct to even bother defining the creative person as “talented” in the first place – I mean something is triggering something else - cause and effect, right? Was it the song, was it their voice, the key, the words or do we even have a blooming clue as to “why” it was so effective and uplifted us up so powerfully? After all, you cannot get a powerful end result without applying considerable “power” to make it happen in the first place – energy isn't free!
How we develop Instinct
Experience over time gives us perspective, and when combined with social trends it dilutes into instinct – this is true for anything in life, whether be it discovering great food, or enjoying creative pieces of art. We learn at a very early age what our favourite foods are and those tastes never fundamentally change. However, before we being to even develop an instinct of things we like, we must have experience with prolonged exposure for a period of time to ______– and viola, we have a “favourite”.
So now that we have loosely broken down how one builds that natural instinct to define “good” and “crud”, we now move onto applying this logic to the creative process – specifically making photographs.
Because we all possess an uncanny ability to naturally distinguish great photographs from crud, we are all qualified individuals at loosely picking between the better of “Example A” or “B”. We all have the natural instinct that, because of our experience over time, defines what is good, and what is not without us knowing the “why” – which leads me to my next point!
What is Theory?
When loosely defined, theory simply means “the science” behind a given discipline. For instance, music theory is the science behind why certain notes sound good together, and why others do not. The same is true for colour theory, because if one combines colours which are not sympathetic, it can be a disaster! But why is theory important to my argument?
In the discipline of photography there are many theories which need to be understood by a prospecting photographer. These are cold, hard facts of what makes a great composition, and are defined off of great photographs which preceded that theory - and they are many in number! There are so many, in fact, that it takes a lifetime to really master the many spheres of what makes a photograph great. Yet even more important is the ability to reproduce greatness reliably and flawlessly, time and time again. Theory alone will never empower an individual to consistently create greatness all by itself, because theory does not create – its based off of greatness, and greatness is instinct. Theory is but the math, and math is complicated! We have theory of compositional elements, contrast of shapes and colours and scale – we have lighting, its direction, intensity, colour cast. Then we move on to the mechanics of the physical camera and medium which actually makes the photograph – and on, and on we go with endless lists of equally critical theory which defines what we must do, and what we mustn't as photographers. It takes years to learn just the basics of these fundamental theories before one can even “claim” to be a photographer worth their salt, I don’t care what camera they just bought! And even then, knowing the fundamentals is still largely useless because instinct hasn't had time to be conceived, that takes time – remember? And this awesomely enough leads me to yet another point, and the meat of this article.
I've already defined how instinct is made over time, based on your personality and life experience, and how we use our subconscious process to auto-magically label a piece of art instinctually. But how does one apply instinct on purpose, invoking it with the conscious side of our mind and use it to create?
Experience and time, that’s how!
Instinct is what makes greatness, it is what exists before theory, and it is the stuff theory is made of – instinct is talent! One cannot have theory without something to theorize about. And one cannot study something which hasn't been created. We creative types have an interesting, and royal calling. We create things which never existed before, and we, by our talents (read instincts) make creations which can be studied, and off of which theory is born. Instinct comes from years of experiences in one’s life, which are all unique – instinct is wired into your mind, and it is how you live your life. Instinct is how you define yourself, and how you challenged yourself to become great, by not cutting corners and doing it "the right way". Instinct is not accidental, because it takes energy to create. Greatness is instinct, and instinct existed first.
Instinct is what makes great photographers, great. It is the reason we even label them as “great” in our minds, and it is what distinguishes them from the rest – instinct creates, theory copies. But I'm curious what happens when we combine the two, aren't you?
Ohh, you know a sequel is coming, don’t ya!
Until Next Time,