Creativity vs. Craft

20130721-184 Blog-2
Stylized rose using textures and presets

The artist is nothing without the gift,
but the gift is nothing without the work.

~ Oscar Wilde

One thing that makes nurturing my creativity hard is the difficulty in accepting that failure is necessary in the process of learning the craft, that the learning curve is messy and long, and the frustrations are endless.  It might be expensive also, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to learn something new without money getting wasted at some point.

Meshack Vallesillas wrote an excellent article here about how often when someone thinks they are not creative, they are confusing craft and creativity.  He states:

. . . anything you might consider ‘art’ is actually made up of two parts; creativity and craft. The craft is the artistic skill used to make art, and creativity is the spark of life or the ingenuity behind it.

It’s easy to look at others and their accomplishments and assume it’s because of their creative gifts that they are so good.  But in fact, creativity requires a perfecting of craft, of practicing, failing, and learning.

Rose as originally shot
Rose as originally shot

I love watching the Food Network.  There are so many examples of practice, creativity and failure.  When I watch Bobby Flay get ready for a throw down challenge, he experiments over and over with the ingredients.  He’s highly creative, but he also practices his craft and hones it.  And his failures seems pretty frequent too!  But if he didn’t try, he wouldn’t know what he knows.

I’ve learned from watching my favorite boy toy that photographers take thousands of pictures, analyze them, throw out most, and go out to take more, trying new techniques to improve their skills.  There is a huge difference in what my favorite boy toy took 40+ years ago when we were in high school together versus what he does today.  But just as importantly, there is a noticeable difference in what he did even several years ago versus what he does today.  I’m not the only one with that opinion either.  The manager of the gallery where he exhibits is amazed at how prolific he is and how each year’s new work is better than the year before.  If you’d like to see his talent, click here.

At work, the younger staff is amazed at the things I know.  I remind them that I’ve had many years to learn this and it’s not something that they will know overnight.  I tell them that learning to do state income taxes is an apprenticeship – not Donald Trump’s apprenticeship, but Mickey Mouse’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  And that it takes practice to get the brooms to bring the water without the water running everywhere!  They laugh, but it gets the point across that their success at work is a matter of practice as much as it is head knowledge.

My new header photo
My new header photo and an excellent example of patience in capturing the subject matter and practicing technique  with Lightroom to fix a small blemish on the bee and properly adjust a photo taken in camera raw (which needs more processing than a jpg)

So when I talked about nurturing my creativity the other day, I forgot the reminder that to be creative means to be learning and executing technique as well as having failures.  I have to remember that practicing something – anything – is part of being creative.  The ideas alone are not sufficient if I can’t make them into reality.  I need to try things to see if I like them and to expand the tools I can use.  Creativity will remain unfulfilled without practice and hard work.

Here are some other links that you might enjoy:

Changing This One Thought Could Lead You To a Better Life (the article I discussed at the beginning of this post)

Why People (Incorrectly) Think They Are Not Creative (best quote – Craft is something you acquire by learning a skill.  If you want to develop your craft, put in your time.)

Creativity, Craft and the Quants (the story about John Lennon and how he could just throw a song together is particularly good – that the song didn’t just happen, it happened to someone with years of experience in listening to and crafting songs)

The Art vs. Craft Gap – A Writer’s Paradox  (another good quote – Art is the essence of that originality and the power of the end result.  Craft is execution using the tools of the trade.)

Crush the “I’m Not Creative” Barrier

Doing a Daily Photo Challenge (my story of how doing a daily photo challenge helped me be a better photographer)



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I am a backyard adventurer, philosopher and observer, recording my life in journals and photographs. Visit my blog at

19 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Great post. It takes my mind back to a half-remembered poem about the form needing to be strong enough to hold the content. If we haven’t learned the craft well enough to make the form–I see it as a clay bowl, for some reason–then we can’t give shape to the inspiration. Sorry I can’t remember the poem itself, because it said it much better.

    Great photos as well.

    • Thanks for the compliments and for stopping over to visit! I’m glad you liked the post and photos.

      I find whether it’s here or at work, that there is simply a learning curve to everything before you become proficient and we underestimate it to our detriment.

      If you ever find that poem, I’d love to see it!


    • Thanks Tina. I’d really enjoyed the articles when I read them and felt it explained a lot about some of my frustrations with my so-called creativity. I didn’t become a good cook overnight and likewise with my blogging, photography, etc. There needs to be more attention paid to how the learning curve impacts us when we’re being creative.

  2. Why so many dismiss conceptual art? (Seriously, if it’s only thought without a solid “product”, is that offered by a lazy mind without skill to make it happen? Or a clever one who has no need to make it happen?) Up in the air on that one.
    In a hurry up instant world, many don’t want to take time to have skills evolve, but you are right, practice does edge towards perfect…guess those apprenticeships were done for a reason long ago. The early works not so much as errors or mistakes, but rather a time to extend and learn by trial and error. (without the pressure of making a masterpiece before skills were ready)
    Great post

    • You really hit it with the comment on how so many don’t want to take the time for skills to evolve. I see that impatience at work quite a bit with people wanting promotions when they don’t know enough to do the job they should be doing.

      I’d love to see your take on this – could be an idea for a post of your own??

      I’m glad you enjoyed mine. Thanks (as always) for stopping by.

  3. Your husband’s photographs are amazing. You are so right when you say, “Creativity will remain unfulfilled without practice and hard work.” Those young people you work with are fortunate to have you as a mentor. Thanks for the links.

    • Thanks Darlene. For the most part, they’ve been grateful for the time I’ve invested in their lives and careers. I’ve influenced a lot of them over the years and they’ve gone on to do good things in their lives.

      I’m glad you like the links! And of course, you’re a great example of how hard work fulfills your creativity. There is no way the Amanda books just spring out of those fast fingers of yours. I love reading the interviews you do. I learn more about your process each time. Perhaps you’ll post a column of creativity vs. craft for yourself? I’d love to know how you’ve applied it and the lessons you’ve learned over the years. You have a lot of the material already in various places – pull it together, smooth it out and expand it. Just a thought!

      • What a great idea.One to put in the idea bag. I am slowly working toward retirement and down to 2 – 3 days a week at work. I’m hoping to have more time to do things like this.Thanks for your support and encouragement.

        • The support and encouragement is definitely a two-way between us. How nice that you can cut back to part-time and ease into retirement, although I know you’ve had a lot of changes lately with the job and everything. Did that contribute to this? I’d love to do something like that, but financially we’re not there yet.

    • Thanks Patti. I was thinking of you & your pastels when I wrote this up. Remember how I kept teasing you to get going on those failures? And you did – in fact, you turned out some very nice work. Are you still doing pastels or did you decide it wasn’t for you?

      • I’ve been focused on other things, improving drawing/perspective/etc., but I do want to get back to the pastels. Need to have the basics down first. I’m trying to improve photography, too, researching a new camera–need more zoom!

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