Collecting Dots

Collecting the dots is the basic tenant from which all creativity begins.

Collecting dots basically means being exposed to a large and diverse variety of inputs. These inputs then in their own time, connect in unpredictable ways to produce something unique. Put simply, collecting dots is gathering raw materials for creativity.

As far as the photographer is concerned, there are almost no limits on how we can collect dots. Collect dots from other visual fields like painting. Studying composition in paintings will help composition in your photographs. Studying how the painter communicates emotions will help us communicate emotions in our photography.

Collect dots from musicians and how they compose their symphonies to convey emotions. Read poetry. Listen to opera. Collect dots from past and contemporary master photographers and study their photographs.

Go diverse. Read business books and blogs – and then consider how they relate to photography. Listen to jazz musicians. Go to a museum. Watch a movie. Watch a Netflix show. Collecting dots is what inspired me to start Netflix series on the blog in an attempt to collect dots from other artists on top of their game. I know I’m asking to consume stuff – but this, to me, is consuming with an intent and is different to mindlessly consuming while sitting in front of a computer.

I think this is what Austin Kleon meant in his book Steal Like an Artist.

Here are few simple, practical way to collect dots in real life –

  1. Follow variety of sources on social media. Don’t simply follow those whose views match your own. Follow photographers, follow painters, follow musicians.
  2. Use an aggregator app on your smartphone like Feedly. Add a diverse variety of sources to your feed (in doing so, ensure you are aiming for quality of sources, not quantity) and then daily spend 5 – 10 minutes in the app going through your feed.
  3. Listen to diverse audiobooks and podcasts. One of the simplest ways.
  4. Have interests, opinions outside photography. Consider what you would be interested in even if you couldn’t photograph it. Follow your curiosities.

When we have enough dots in our buckets, our subconscious will start to connect them without any input from us. This is what leads to intuition. Intuition is nothing but subconscious connecting of dots that leads to new connections that others, with less dots in their buckets have missed. This is what leads to our Euraka moments. Very rarely the eureka moments happen someone who has spent little or no time studying the topic at hand. You cannot force creativity and creative insights.

Apart from collecting dots to fill our creativity toolbox – and I am saying this completely from a personal point of view – I think it’s a great thing to take time to view and consider works from other artists. To see, respect and admire what our peers are doing. To pay homage to masters of any artistic field. To me anyway, it reminds me that I am part of a bigger picture. Looking at work of other artists remind me of the connection we have.

Reminds me of a Kobe Bryant quote.

I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.

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