Standing in front of the question: photographer and teacher David Ulrich feels that not knowing the answer can be the key to finding it.
David Ulrich photographed the lighthouse at Makapuu Point in 1991.

Joleen Oshiro

People today have too many answers and not enough questions, says David Ulrich, a photographer, author and teacher of the creative process. Ulrich is facilitating "The Widening Stream: Cultivating the Flow of Creativity," a workshop Saturday at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Our society teaches us that we must have answers, but "we are not taught to listen," Ulrich says. "We are not taught to live in a state of not knowing."

That seems a strange prospect for most of us to aspire to, but Ulrich says that developing creativity is about cultivating responsiveness. And responsiveness, he says, means being open enough to leave room for the unknown.

For example, Ulrich says, "Let's say someone is cooking a meal. ... The first thing he must do is bring a certain quality of attention to the meal. He doesn't want to undercook it or overcook it. To know this, he must be in touch with the process.

"The danger is, we live mechanically," Ulrich says. If the meal gets brown before the recipe says it should be done, but the cook refuses to deviate from the recipe, the meal will be overcooked. If the meal is cooking slower than stated on the recipe, without deviation, it will be undercooked.

"What does it mean to be in touch with our own responses?" he asks. "It means going beyond directions. Maybe the meal needs a little more time to cook. Maybe cooking it brings to mind a new spice to try out. It means going beyond what we think is going to take place.

"Creative response is embracing mystery."

ULRICH, A FACULTY MEMBER at Pacific New Media, the University of Hawaii-Manoa outreach college, has taught creativity and photography workshops for more than 25 years. He chaired the photography department of the Art Institute of Boston for 15 years and served as executive director at the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center on Maui for four years. Ulrich's latest book, "The Widening Stream: The Seven Stages of Creativity," is the written counterpart to the academy workshop.

Ulrich's dual careers, as photographic artist and teacher of creative process, are rooted in two pivotal events in his life: the Kent State shootings in 1970 and losing his right eye in 1983.

Ulrich was a photojournalism student at Kent when students were killed by National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest. Earlier that day, he had taken photographs of one of the students killed. The tragic failure of activism that day convinced Ulrich that fixing society's ills begins with internal change. So he gave up photojournalism to become an artist. During that time, Ulrich also read the works of creative minds and spiritual teachers and studied under famed photographer Minor White, a teacher of creativity and photography.

Then, in 1983, Ulrich lost his right eye in a wood chopping accident. The incident initially left him depressed, but ironically, as he relearned to see with just one eye, his inner awareness - the ability to "see" himself, his creative efforts and his life with clarity - blossomed. His accident, at first a debilitating loss, became a life-changing event that inspired personal growth.

"Athens, Ohio 1974," taken by David Ulrich.

Today, Ulrich says, "What I am sharing (as a teacher) are my own questions and explorations. It's an ongoing process. This is my life, what I care deeply about. I am committed to two things: my own creative work and teaching."

ULRICH SAYS HIS WORKSHOPS address the need of people from all walks of society - not just artists - to be creative in their lives. The academy workshop will experiment with writing and sketching, but he says participants don't need to be writers or artists, just "open to something new.

"Many people have an intuitive connection to creativity, but they don't know how to begin or how to bring it to fruition," he says.

Part of connecting with the creative process is "listening to ourselves," Ulrich says. A person must "go within to find what's authentic, to find out what is real to who we are. Ultimately, the creative act is a search for ourselves."

And it takes courage to turn attention onto ourselves, Ulrich says.

"The whole of modern life, our values, our education system, is based on training the mind. We are taught to have answers to everything under the sun - 'What are your thoughts?' 'What's your opinion?' - rather than standing in front of the question and exploring it."

Stepping outside of the comfort of answers can be scary, but Ulrich believes creativity is vital to both personal growth and improving our world.

"Ultimately, when we engage in creativity, we are engaging in a search for deeper meaning. It raises our level of consciousness," he says. "When we are creative, we bring something of a different quality into our world. Clearly, if we're going to solve some of the problems of our world, we're going to need to have a greater degree of responsiveness, attention to creativity and innovation.

"Einstein said the consciousness required to solve the problems of the world is not the same consciousness that created them.

"When we bring creative response to the moment in front of us, we may very well bring new, innovative solutions to problems that confront us all."

Creativity workshop

What: "The Widening Stream: Cultivating the Flow of Creativity"
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St.
Cost: $50
Call: 532-8741 to register

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