At the Coalface of the Unknown

11 April, 2017

To me, creativity is sitting right at the coalface of the unknown. This takes courage because failure is imminent. Ego likes certainty and security, which is the known. So the basis of the view that I am creative person or that I produce wonderful work is always on the verge of collapse when facing the unknown. It is a turning towards and facing the existential angst. Pressures mount, anxiety intensifies, and other questions haunt below the surface and threaten to overwhelm the mind, such as 'who I am?' This is a natural process, although it feels very much the opposite. This needs to be breathed through, quietly, the aim being to let the noise settle, and at some stage, begin. 

Where is the coalface of the unknown in your own creativity? 

For me, in music, it is composing a piece that has feeling, is melodic, and forms the basic structure of a track or a larger piece of music. All other choices are pure distraction. What instrument should I use? What can I add to this? How can I improve this? What style should it be in? What harmony should I use? These are all mind chatter to distract from facing the unknown. I choose the piano or keyboard because the sound is stripped, it has a timeless quality that evokes. Without a decent melodic starting point that captures a feeling or mood, a resulting piece of music will lack, and no amount of working on it will cover what is missing. There is something essentially human in a melodic phrase, something that the brain recognises in a pattern, something that expresses a feeling directly. 

Knowing this, the pathway forward in music has become clear. Sit on the piano stool, in silence, and begin with a couple of notes. From there, all else will take care of itself. 

For me, in photography, I have not found this coalface. I think the view that it is subject is misleading, as there are many interesting photographs that cover nearly every subject. I think too that concept is important, but it lacks that feeling element to be the right answer. I sense it has something to do with memory, as photography is always of the past, to quote Roland Barthes. A memory is a single frame picture. There is a different type of feeling to hearing a piece of music. A memory is archaic, it is embedded, entrenched. The feelings can be harder to access within the memory. They pass into becoming ancient, ancestral, receding in to mist. To me that makes the coalface of the unknown harder to find, let alone face. With music, the feeling is direct. The thinking brain is bypassed, the emotional brain is accessed. Photography is visual, and thoughts are often visual in nature, and so a layer of complexity is added. This can be bypassed when photographing a beautiful landscape, because the visual beauty and other elements such as quiet, sunshine, fresh air, smells, all these I am immersed in. 

So to me, at this particular point in time, the coalface of the unknown in photography is not clear. This, then, becomes a false coalface, that appears real, but it is not the real coalface of the unknown, because I do not feel it in my bones. So my task now is to sort through illusions until I strike pay dirt, something solid that I know there is no going beyond, where I sense the real work can begin. 

Darren J Harris

(copyright 2017 Darren J Harris)

2 comments

  • Richard

    Richard Fitzroy Crossing

    If you destroy the notion of success and failure and respect that which you do (one does) as being the best one can do - then the burden of creative expression reduces. We can reflect of course. But it is what it is. We don't scrutinise our speech with such enthusiasm, because in part the history of great orators is not as present as the image makers. There is nothing to win. Nothing to lose. No one who is there to reject and no one interested. Just do it and move on. At least. That's what I feel.

    If you destroy the notion of success and failure and respect that which you do (one does) as being the best one can do - then the burden of creative expression reduces. We can reflect of course. But it is what it is. We don't scrutinise our speech with such enthusiasm, because in part the history of great orators is not as present as the image makers. There is nothing to win. Nothing to lose. No one who is there to reject and no one interested. Just do it and move on. At least. That's what I feel.

  • Darren J Harris

    Darren J Harris Brisbane

    Good points Richard. After putting the audience and "success" aside, there is still the natural inclination (in me anyway) to want to dive deep into the medium and be the best I can be, which is more for me a fascination and curiosity with the medium. The deeper I go, the deeper I want to. My frustrations still arise from the plateaus that are part of the creative process, and I am learning to go with those and leave them alone. If I get too Zen, I don't create, and if I suffer emotionally too much, I produce work that lacks depth and balance of the internal with the external. I seek a balance of both.

    Good points Richard. After putting the audience and "success" aside, there is still the natural inclination (in me anyway) to want to dive deep into the medium and be the best I can be, which is more for me a fascination and curiosity with the medium. The deeper I go, the deeper I want to. My frustrations still arise from the plateaus that are part of the creative process, and I am learning to go with those and leave them alone. If I get too Zen, I don't create, and if I suffer emotionally too much, I produce work that lacks depth and balance of the internal with the external. I seek a balance of both.

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