The Paradox of Creativity


One of the biggest and most pervasive myths of creativity is that you must wait for it. That is, the age-old myth of having to wait for divine inspiration in order to create great art.

While, I agree, there are times where you need to let your ideas simmer or evolve a bit, that practice, in my experience, is a discipline that will have you barking up the wrong tree.

What is most pervasive about this myth is that you have given up control to something outside yourself. That some divine force (or the muse) comes to you when you least expect it. And to some degree, it does. But it arrives because of YOUR present engagement in the work and the letting go in order for your innate creativity to flow through you. It comes from inside out.

Where this goes wrong for many artists is that they are in “waiting mode” a lot of the time. Not really keeping their hands moving. That means just keep working. Being “in-the-now” when you are working. That is the only way creativity has ever worked. In the working. In the doing. Keeping your hands moving.

I used to do a lot of “thinking” about my work when I was producing a series of paintings. But after a while, it really got to be unproductive. Running to the studio when I received a flash of insight or just working when I felt like working. When the “feelings” were right.

Let me tell you – that is one of the most unproductive ways to structure your creativity. Doing it when you feel like it. Or when you’re in the mood. Not good – or productive. Contrary to what you might think, having a clearly defined and detailed structure to your creative activity actually gives you more freedom – not less. That’s the real paradox of creativity – the more structure, the better.

Because it allows to to work within a structure. I remember reading how the painter Ross Bleckner plans his creativity. He said it was just like punching a clock at a factory job. Punch the time clock at 8am, work till noon, have lunch, then punch out again at 5pm and your day is done. He said he does it in a religious way, almost never wavering from this discipline.

And, remember, it IS a discipline. A discipline meaning a practice. Something you do habitually – over and over again. I’ve noticed, working myself and with some of the most well-known contemporary artists today they have certain disciplines they practice as part of their working creative process.

I definitely recommend re-evaluating and/or re-thinking your creative process. How much do you plan your creative time? Are you religious about protecting it? are you susceptible to those “time-sucking” vampires who interrupt you time and time again? do you have a plan in place to avoid these interruptions?

Whenever you introduce a new discipline it’s always a good idea to have it written down on paper or saved as your screen saver or something that will trigger you to remember it. It will take time to “re-wire” into your current patterns. And cut yourself some slack. It takes time and attention to implement a new pattern. But the more successful patterns (or disciplines) you can implement the more and more successful you become. I guarantee it! (and can prove it)

A book I really like that not only shows a ton of very cool studios but also discusses (in interview form) how some very well-known artists work and plan their creative process is this book Inside the Painter’s Studiofound on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

I be discussing soon a number of other artist “disciplines” that other super successful artists use and that you can implement, too. Stay tuned.

Image above:
Ross Bleckner
“Falling Birds” 1994
Oil on linen, 96″ by 120″
Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery

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