The professional art world can be elitist. Or so it seems. The average person doesn’t regularly bathe in the jargon of the art world or take a deconstructive approach to post-modern conceptual kinaesthetic land art. Thinking about this very thing–not land art, but jargon–I realized that I have been using terms in The Iteration Project’s work that the average creative hobbyist or even professional artist might find off putting. So, this is the first post in a series to tackle those very terms that appear time and time again throughout TIP’s website, the newsletter, and on social media.

The Jargon: The Creative Prompt

To prompt means to assist, encourage, cause, or bring about. Creative means marked by the ability or power to create. Putting them together, a creative prompt is a way to encourage or cause the ability or power to create. The thing is, I know more artists and creatives that don’t know what a creative prompt is than do. Prompts are most often found in the creative writing world but can have immense value for creatives at any stage of their practice in any discipline. A creative prompt can be so many different things. It can be a phrase, a quotation, a word, or an image, or something else that I can’t think of. A prompt can jog a memory or inspire an action. It can require 5 minutes of commitment or months. However, the one thing that it always is is a jumping off point to begin creating.

Now that we’ve tackled what it is, let’s look at why it is. Prompts tackle three very important problems any creative faces.

  1. They give you a jumping off point if you have no idea how or where to start making something. So often creative-act-engagers find themselves staring at a blank page, or sitting at an empty desk, wallowing alone in a studio, or uninspired to make anything. The creative prompt provides a reason to create and an idea to base the creation on.
  2. Prompts often require the creator to make decisions and view things in a new way and tackle a problem they might otherwise avoid. If left to our own devices, we’ll take the easy way out, continue to explore something we feel comfortable exploring, pick up our favorite paintbrush, put on our favorite music, and fall into our old habits. There is definitely a time and place to do that, but sometimes it’s really important to find new ways of doing and thinking about things in order to continue expanding your own skill set and understanding of whatever art it is you’re engaging in.
  3. Prompts get the juices flowing without having to commit to an extended process or exploration. Often we think that creating something has to be a long drawn out process that requires extended commitment. Prompts fly in the face of that. They are short, sweet, and can initiate extended exploration, but only if you want them to.

The most beautiful thing about all of this, however, is that there is no right or wrong way to “do” a prompt. I’ll give you an example of how I would do one, but take it with a grain of salt. The beauty and value of any community is that members are individuals with unique thought processes and actions and everyone has a different approach to the same prompt. . .hence the fun thing about getting a bunch of different people to tackle the same prompt. Here we go: the prompt is “heat.” As a dancer I generate a lot of heat in my body when exertion is at its height. I would then go into the studio and start playing around with ways of getting hot and sweating a ton. That’s it. Or, let’s say I were to tackle the prompt by writing about it; the first thing that comes to mind is how hot summers are where I live in Knoxville, TN. I think about sweating glasses of sweet tea, humidity that makes your hair curl, sweltering sunny afternoons, and lots of sprinklers in the yard. Conjuring up those images, I would write about that. I’m telling you, it really is that simple. 

If you are unfamiliar with using prompts, I would encourage you to try them out. Give yourself a timeline: set aside 5-10 minutes to write about and brainstorm off of the prompt and then take 20 minutes to create. You’re done in 30 minutes, you’ve warmed up the creative flow, and now you’re ready to tackle another problem, pick up an existing project, or just check your email and go on with your day. If you enjoy doing prompts, try writing one for yourself each day of the week. The process of opening your eyes to the world around you and taking in enough information to formulate your own prompt is an extremely creative process in and of itself and it also has a profound effect on what you create off of the prompt.

I have found, more often than not, that working through a seemingly random prompt has given me valuable information and clarity on work that I’m engaged in outside of TIP. Once you start making connections between disparate ideas it’s hard to stop. Not only do you start seeing these connections everywhere, but the motivation to continue finding and exploring these intersections of various things in your life snowballs. That, my friends, is exactly why creative prompts are valuable and why this piece of stupid artist jargon might not be so stupid after all.



4 thoughts on “Stupid Artist Jargon, Part 1: The Creative Prompt

  1. Thank you for helping to knock down the mental barriers many of us have built between ourselves and our urge to create.


  2. Really enjoying this–sometimes all it takes is a single word, at the right time, and just getting my booty into the studio! Thanks.


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