Artistic Creativity and Soccer Refereeing ……Really!   (12.08.18)

A creative glimpse of Cascade Mountain viewed from Tunnel Mountain - Banff 


Too many years ago I was a soccer referee.  I refereed games at the highest level in the province, but age and a desire to do something different resulted in my retirement.  For many years I’ve been away from that sport and the good people who were referees, but a few years ago I decided to return in the role of a referee assessor.

A few weeks ago I was in Lethbridge assessing referees at the Alberta Summer Games.   I had a lot of time between games and several evenings on my own with only my thoughts as company.  As I looked at my notes from the assessments, I realised that there was a parallel between what I had seen in the referees on the field managing a game and photographers engaged in their art.

There is an extremely small book called “The Laws of the Game” that contains all the rules associated with the game of soccer.  It covers everything from the marks on the field to the punishment a referee may use for such things as violent conduct by a player.  What is more, exactly the same law book is used worldwide.

What the book does not describe is how the referee manages the use of the laws to ensure a soccer match is played fairly and safely.

As I assessed one referee after the other, I noticed that some had a style or quality that resulted in the management of a soccer game that was over and above anything written in the law book.  Most soccer referees have the mechanisms and processes described in the law book down pat.  Yet there is a higher level of referee performance, one that adds a degree of finesse to the management of a game.  I’ve concluded that this extra level is something that cannot be completely learned.  A referee has to have a style and personality built in to achieve this final, top level.  You can ask soccer players what this enhanced level of on–field man management is and they will struggle to find a definition, but they recognise it when they see it in a referee.  I think the necessary flair for refereeing comes in degrees as well.  When I was refereeing I know I had some of these undefinable qualities, but there were others whose flair for refereeing resulted in even better game management.  They were amongst the top referees in the province and the country.

In the world of photographic art I believe there are three parallel elements to what I’ve had to say about soccer refereeing.  Those elements are photographic mechanisms, a creative process, and creativity itself.  The written guides to photography, the equivalent of the soccer law book, contain the mechanisms that we use to produce our art.  In photography this includes skills, such as how to operate your camera or how to use software to produce printed images.  The next element contains a level above the technical mechanisms, and I include in that the creative process.  This is the process that a photographic artist uses to help their creativity bloom and I believe it is a personal element of style.  An example might be getting away by oneself, bereft of any interferences or detractions.

Finally comes the element that I call creativity, the equivalent of that added finesse some soccer referees have.  To be creative, the photographer will use the mechanisms and their creative process almost subconsciously.  This will free their mind to create, to see, and to evoke emotions connected with what is seen.  I see many paintings and photographs that are examples of mechanisms that have resulted in high quality, technically excellent prints.   I have talked to artists who have developed their own creative process that enables them get their mind into a state where creativity will flow.  But I think, there are a limited number of people who have the ability to be truly creative, to make something new, to make something unique, to make something that evokes emotion in the viewer.  Just as some referees are at the top, respected by players and coaches, I think that the truly creative artists are the ones that are most respected by their patrons, peers and critics alike.

Sometimes I believe I’m being creative when I make a photographic image that stirs an emotion in me and others.  Most of these images are the result of me being in the right place at the right time.  They are not usually a result of my setting out with an artistic goal.  I think many people who own a camera can produce an image that is visually captivating when a scene or situation is discovered, not created, in a moment over which they have no control.  I have accomplished such results.  What I struggle with is creating an image at a particular place and a particular moment, regardless of the time of day, the light, the weather, or interferences to my creativity.  I think those creative photographic artists who are at the top of their ‘game’ can do so and I look at the results of their art with respect and even wonder.