Establishing Your Pillars of Creativity

Explore what your creative practice looks like and determine your guidelines for expanding it.

Lawrence Lazare
Live View
8 min readSep 19, 2023


Source: Unknown

A few weeks ago, during my Advanced Ideas and Concepts class, my professor asked us what might have been a simple question:

“What does your creative process look like?”

As someone who has been playing music and taking photos for more than forty years, that could have been a simple question. However, far from being easy to answer, I struggled to write a short essay about my process. Creatively, I am driven by instinct and by what tools I have at hand, be it a mirrorless camera or a 12-string electric guitar. I don’t think about concept — I react. Working by instinct served me just fine for years, that is, until I found myself bored by making the same types of work I’d been making over and over.

My main goal in going to art school was to force me away from the successful but safe artistic practice I’d been using for many years. My existing approach to my work allowed me to do good but safe work. I found that I had become very good at the craft of making photographs but not at the art of photography.

I felt that my approach to creativity was in need of a jumpstart. Going to art school and taking classes like Advanced Ideas and Concepts seems to be just the tonic my artistic soul needs.

Having spent the last few weeks digging into and understanding my way of making art and how I can expand and enhance it, I’d like to share the artistic pillars that I hope to utilize as I explore new paths of creativity. This list is not to be conclusive or restrictive; it merely reflects the ideas I am using to shake up my own practice. After reading mine, think about what your own pillars might be.

Pillar 1 - Let Go of Expectations

You are lost the instant you know what the results will be, -Juan Gris

As a photographer, letting go of expectations is a difficult challenge for me. I have subscribed to the concept that we should be able to visualize the final photograph before we take it. Where that concept might be useful if I am taking a landscape image of a location I know, having preconceived notions of the outcome of my work can severely limit creativity.

Working without expectation of the final work opens the doors to the happy accidents and unforeseen results that come when you are not attached to your final piece. This concept allows me to take an improvisational approach to my work. Yes, the work might be crap and nothing like I might have hoped for, but then again, it can open whole new artistic outcomes that come from abandoning expectations.

Pillar 2 - Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper.” -Anne Lamott

When it comes to making photographs, I like to work quickly. I consider it a huge win if I make an image that requires no post-processing. However, in my writing or music practice, my first attempt at an essay or at a musical composition is usually mediocre at best.

Writers and visual artists are likely more familiar and comfortable with the idea of the crappy first draft. But given the nature and immediacy of modern photography, we photographers can often get great results right out of the box. Personally, creating a great image right out of the gate does little to enhance my skills and vision. It lulls me into complacency. As I rebuild my approach to making work, I want to explore the new and unknown. I want to try something different and fail, and then dust myself off and try again.

If you’ve read my piece Five Things Studying Ceramics Taught Me About Photography, then you’ve heard me discuss how my experience learning ceramics was mostly about embracing failure. I am working to challenge myself to do work that leads to failure and to then go back and try and try again.

Pillar 3 - New Tools Can Be Transformative

Source: Impulse! Records

In 1960, John Coltrane recorded Giant Steps, one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Giant Steps showcased Coltrane at a time when his tenor saxophone mastery was second to none. A year later, Coltrane, changing instruments to the rarely heard soprano saxophone, released the seminal album My Favorite Things. With this addition of the soprano saxophone, Coltrane’s sound, composition style, and career were forever transformed.

The B-flat soprano saxophone is the same key as the tenor saxophone but an octave higher. Where the tenor has a rich and earthy depth to its sound, the soprano has a thinner and more reedy sound. Changing instruments enabled Coltrane to step away from the confines of traditional chord progressions as he explored more Eastern and African sounds over the course of winding 14-minute tracks. With the release of My Favorite Things, the sound of the jazz saxophone would never be the same.

Like the musical transmutation that occurs when switching between the tenor and soprano saxophones, the difference between photography with a square format and a traditional landscape format is transformational. Likewise, seeing the world from the viewpoint of a waste-level viewfinder opens a world that you just can’t get with a viewfinder pressed to your eye.

As photographers, adding new tools to our toolkit can be as easy as trying a new lens or filter. Lens rentals make it easy to try before you buy, so you could rent a fisheye or macro lens to mix things up. The new generation of instant cameras, like the Fuji Instax or the just announced Polaroid i-2, allow you to go retro with ease.

One of the easiest ways to change your approach to creative work is to try using a totally new tool or process that forces you away from your tried and true way of approaching your work. If you want to totally transform how you see the world, both literally and figuratively, Try switching your camera to black-and-white mode for a few days. Who knows, giving black and white a try on your digital camera just might make you want to give film photography a try, or in the case of us folks over 50, another try.

Pillar 4 - Throw a Wrench in the Works

Source: The Eno Shop

As I write this, I am struggling through my second assignment for my Advanced Ideas and Concepts class. Although I am deep into crafting my piece titled Memory Retrieval System, I am repeatedly hitting barriers and struggling with creating a piece that has me way out of my comfort zone.

The other night, I was standing in the kitchen expressing my project frustrations with my wife, who just happens to be a sculptor and art professor. Rather than respond directly to my whining, she walked down the hall to her office and grabbed a small black box from her shelf. Returning to the kitchen, she opened the black box stamped with the words Oblique Strategies in capital letters. She told me to reach in and take a card. The card I picked said simply:

Emphasize the flaws

“That’s my advice,” she said.

Invented many years ago by Brian Eno, the pioneering musician and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Oblique Strategies cards are meant to offer artistic support by throwing a metaphoric wrench in the works. The suggestions the cards offer force you to stand back from your artistic creation and to force you to reconsider the approach you are taking with your work.

Oftentimes, when we hit artistic roadblocks, we try to push through to get to the other side. Instead of soldiering on through. Why not step back and try something completely unexpected? Stuck on where to go with an artistic project? Wait, let me grab an Oblique Strategies cart for you…

“Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance”

Interested in more Eno brilliance? Oblique Strategies is available as an app. Want to get the set of cards in the beautiful black box? Get the Oblique Strategies cards here.

Pillar 5 - Embrace the Poetry

The Memory Retrieval System project I am currently working on involves a fictional conversation between myself and my mother, who died 38 years ago. I was struggling with the dialog I was writing between my mother and me. When I shared my struggle with my wife, she made the suggestion I think of my writing as poetry rather than as non-fiction.

This suggestion to embrace the poetic aspects of my art piece was transformational. By embracing the poetry of the project, I was freeing myself from a linear narrative where everything had to line up logically. By embracing the poetry of the work we make, we are able to step away from a more defined approach and allow us to let the work take us where it wants to go rather than forcing it to go where we think it needs to go.

Bringing It All Home

So, how is my newfound and more thoughtful approach changing (and hopefully improving) my work? Here’s how it has impacted the Memory Retrieval Project assignment:

  • Embracing Pillar 2 (Iterate, Iterate, Iterate), I quickly moved through a first draft in which I threw everything on the table. I let that first draft sit for a few days, and I then went back for drafts 2–5, with the piece narrowing down each time.
  • Using Pillar 3(New Tools Can Be Transformative), I decided to work with video, a medium I was neither familiar nor comfortable with. Although working with video is challenging, it feels like it’s the best approach for the project.
  • Perhaps most importantly, using pillars 1 and 3 (Let Go of Expectations and Embrace the Poetry), at a certain point, I had to step away from my original vision for the project so that it could go in the direction it needed to go. This was by far the hardest — and most necessary —step in the project.

Wrapping Up

These pillars are not set in stone (yes, that is meant to be an ironic statement). They are merely a humble attempt at fleshing out some key creative kōans meant to provoke and stimulate my approach to making art. Likely, my list of pillars will grow and shift over time.

I am eager to hear about your pillars and how you use them to solve the challenges of making your artwork. The process of making art is a slow and winding journey, so leave me a comment so I can hear your thoughts. I’d love to learn from the pillars that your creativity is built on.

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Lawrence Lazare
Live View

Legally blind photographer and former e-commerce product management lead. Now working on a BFA in Studio Art at the University of West Florida. IG:@llazare