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Creative Beginner's Mind

Allow me to lower the bar. Originality, the origin of which is you, is rooted in self expression. I helped teach a few years of Photography 101 on the college level years ago. Not much stuck with me except for one distinct pattern. Nearly all students were eventually infected with a malady; It was apparent that we educated the originality out of our students.

It’s important to bear in mind that these were art students eager to develop their professional creative skills.

We say we want to be individuals, but more so, we want to belong to tribes – plural: recreational, professional, artistic, religious, not only social. Our tribes put very narrow restrictions on us. These restrictions might include dress, speech or belief but I’m mostly concern with performance in my tribe. I want to surround myself with greatness and count my social currency.

Everyone wants to “play up”, like owning the smallest home in an upwardly mobile neighborhood; hope says we’ll cash in. Remove yourself from culture too far and it quickly moves beyond subculture into outcast. Moreover, being tops in the midst of lameness is scarcely as attractive; an outcast of greatness? No thank you, anything outside culture is “crazy” and wrong in the ways of greatness.

In contrast, as an individual you long to assassinate culture. Culture believes its own lies and you’re looking for truth. The tools we use to fulfill a need for community are exactly those that restrain individuality. Truth remains the best strategy for originality, yet to communicate with your culture of greatness one must adopt its lies. Wait, I’m feeling dizzy.

To assassinate culture is to change it and challenge the immutable. The demands of culture will cause you to lose possibilities and your greatness is the biggest demand. Are you seeking originality or greatness? Though not mutually exclusive, one is a strict conformist and the other is not.

To solve the impasse, create an argument between your changes and the immutable. Leverage the tension by telling a story that fills the breach. Everyone loves a good story.

To find the truth, accept information without judgment; don’t believe the lies. Adopt beginners mind to examine your culture. Avoid losing your original attitude for your art. The limitless meaning and freshness was what my college victims were taught to abandon. We were teaching greatness not originality.

A ready mind equates to infinite possibilities. In an experts mind there are few; never say you are an expert. You are always a beginner.*

by Bruce DeBoer

*paraphrased from Shunryu Suzuki

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