Education is a Boon and a Bane

As a kid, I always loved academia, because I was good at it. I was good at pleasing my teachers and getting the grades. I was the ideal student.

And most of the subjects were very objective. Math is universal. Pi is always 3.14159265359, so I never had to do much critical thinking because the answers were always definite. 

So when I found photography it was almost like a breath of fresh air. I had never had the technical ability to be creative before. I couldn't draw, or paint, or sculpt, but capturing light was just a matter of finding it and setting the camera to the proper settings. For once I felt like I had total control of the outcome, as opposed to having to follow someone else's directions or rules. I thought I was pretty good too. I had no training, but I could naturally pick out interesting compositions and lighting.

A photo from when I first began taking experimenting with photography. Taken on a point-and-shoot in 2010.

A photo from when I first began taking experimenting with photography. Taken on a point-and-shoot in 2010.

Then I began learning. I began studying the formal techniques of composition and lighting. No longer was I saying "Wow that lighting looks neat. I should take a photo." Now I was beginning to say, "It doesn't follow the guidelines. This aspect, and this one, and this one are not correct according to so-and-so." Somewhere along the line I stopped trying to create a Van Gogh and started striving for the Constructivist skyscraper - clean and functional, but emotionally sterile.

When I first started taking photos I didn't know what looked good to everyone else. I didn't care what looked good to everyone else. I just wanted to create something that I would see value in. 

Don't get me wrong. If I'm working for a client, my creative vision is secondary to what they want. However, when I leave that environment I should be able to turn the people-pleasing switch off in my brain, shouldn't I? 

It was when I began learning more and more that I could feel the whimsical view of photography slipping away. I realized that THIS gets "likes" and THAT does not. 

That mentality became even more difficult to escape from when I began taking formal art and photography classes in college. I was graded on my technical proficiency, not on the emotions or content in the photograph. 

A photograph I took in early 2013. Notice how it's much more organized, but less emotionally engaging than my earlier photo.

A photograph I took in early 2013. Notice how it's much more organized, but less emotionally engaging than my earlier photo.

It makes sense, because people who are new to photography need to learn the basics but at the same time it's difficult to break out of the academic mindset that things have to be a certain way. Professors are people who are more knowledgeable than I. I need to listen to listen and take their advice (is what I kept thinking.)

So that leads me to my main question. Where/When should the technical, almost mechanical mindset end, and the instinctual one take over? Before I began trying to learn about photography, I shot solely on what I felt looked right. I couldn't explain why I though a scene looked good. It just...did, and I think some of my more creative works came out of that.

Some education is necessary. The "rules" have to be learned before they can be broken, but I do have to wonder how often being educated by an outside party in a field that is very subject can actually cause a photographer's own voice to be drowned out.

What do y'all think? Can education (particularly higher education) make it more difficult for a person to establish their own creativity?