Comfortably Numb vs. Uncomfortably Alive (or Ode to Creativity)
By Jasna Bogdanovska
As I am writing this, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd is playing in the background. I have always loved this song, the deep, poetic meanings of the lyrics and the fierceness of the music. I listen to the song, and I start thinking about creativity and inspiration.
The base of creativity and inspiration is to be uncomfortable and alive. To see the world with awe and curiosity as if you are a child and you see for the first time. To always walk the sharp edge between failure and success, between a grand idea and a mediocre one. And yes, a mediocre idea (rather than a bad idea) is the opposite of a grand one, since it is more dangerous than a bad one by giving a false sense of security, but that is another blog entry.
Living a creative life is a constant process. The work on creative projects does not end after you leave your office or studio, but it continues everywhere, all the time. It is sketching ideas on napkins in a bar when you are out with your friends, waking up at 3 am to write ideas in the dark on a notepad next to your bed or playing with different lighting set ups and photographing at 5 am. The never-ending journey is the destination of a creative life. And that is its blessing and its curse, the cause of exhilarating happiness and hidden doubts.
Creative life demands constant inspiration and reinvention. But how does one re-imagine reality and see it anew? How do you stay curious when you are not a child anymore?
For me the answer is traveling. I am inspired by the curiosity for the unknown. Traveling to a foreign country is like a time machine, it transforms you from a knowing adult to a small child that does not know how to read or verbally communicate. You are led by intuition and you learn to pick up clues from body language to tone of the voice. Even the silent moments have a meaning. Traveling has taught me about other cultures but also a lot about myself. It has made me a better photographer, art director, designer, artist, educator…
I was sketching some ideas recently, and I felt I was going in circles. The three ideas I was developing were all extensions of my first idea. They were good but not great, and I kept going back to them although in my gut I felt they were not working. I could not let them go. While I was sketching I started thinking about my recent trip to Iceland. I just climbed an active volcano and was sitting at the top looking at the ocean feeling the pulse of the warm earth. The last time this volcano erupted it destroyed the whole island. All 5000 residents had to evacuate in the middle of the night in fishing boats. Sitting there looking at the breathtaking beauty it was hard to believe all of that developed after the tragic destruction. That destruction brought new creation. Because of the lava flow, the size of the island had increased by one square mile. For years after the eruption the heat from the lava was harnessed and used to heat the homes in the town. Same as the volcanic eruption, creating requires destruction of ideas that are not working, and going back to the beginning to create new ones. In some way my travelling experience made it easier for me to let go, start anew and create much better ideas.
In another instance not that long ago, for a recent advertising project I was reading the research about the target audience. This project I was working on as an art director was targeting an audience that was totally different than me. This reminded me of a trip I took last summer. In a middle of a lake in Macedonia there is an isolated island called Snake Island. Uninhibited by people for more than a century, now snakes rule the island. Walking between the archeological ruins and the dreamlike landscape I was followed by the sounds of pelicans and cormorants above and the quiet slithering of the snakes below. This is where Indiana Jones meets The Lord of the Rings. I was minority here. Nature ruled and it made me see it and understand it from a different point of view. I felt small and in awe. Experiencing natural relativism has helped me understand and connect with my audience on a much deeper level.
Some months ago I had a great opportunity to fly in an acrobatic plane. It was a small yellow plane, with a transparent top, barely big enough for two people. I was so excited as I was walking towards the plane with my big bag full of photographic equipment. I have photographed from airplanes before but never from an acrobatic plane. As I was getting ready to get in the plane, my pilot said: “Enjoy the moment… Don’t think about anything, leave all your equipment behind and just enjoy the moment”. But this is the worst thing you can tell a photographer. How can I enjoy the moment without my camera? How can I have this amazing experience without recording it? But flying in that plane, upside down, without my camera I saw the world with my naked eyes from a perspective I have never seen before. I was looking at the clouds beneath me, the shimmering ocean, the long perfect upright shadows of the ships, as we were falling straight towards the ground, getting closer to the water, and then going up at the last minute. Even today, I can still vividly see each shade of each color I saw, all the shapes - geometric and organic becoming one. By being in the moment, I was totally immersing myself with each of my senses in the pure, raw experience. By being mindful, I was able to save it forever. This experience has taught me to be more aware of my work process and more attentive to detail. By learning to see the world from different perspectives every scene I photograph now becomes richer in its potential.
When I am not travelling to a foreign country, being inspired and curious at home means anything from taking a new, longer drive home from work, playing drums, making a right turn instead of the usual left, learning to tango or kickbox… Also, here at home, I have my tribe of creative travelers - my RAF family - whose vehicle of choice is imagination. Seeing each one of them getting inspired and being passionate about anything from brewing to skiing, from writing poetry to acting, from hiking to video games and anything in between, is a constant reminder that being creative means always being curious and in awe.
Jasna Bogdanovska is a Photographer, Art Director, Professor of Photography and the Educational Co-Chair for the Rochester Advertising Federation. You can see more of her work at www.jasnabogdanovska.com or you can follow her on Instagram - @jasnalika
This post was originally published in 2016.