The Flow of Creativity
Updated: Apr 13
What direction does your creativity flow, and what is its source? Does it flow outwardly, from you? I think we’d all like to think it does, but often our quest for acceptance, approval and prestige takes over, leaving us more concerned about technical expertise and making sure our work compares positively to others. The result is a kind of "reverse creativity," where we are more like a mirror than a shining light. In some cases we are literally trying to hide behind that mirror—we don’t want our creativity to flow out from us because then we will be EXPOSED!
Taking in imagery and then producing our own is not the same thing as simply reflecting. It's a question of how deep the taking in goes. It's about chewing, swallowing and digesting, so the stuff you look at becomes you, just like an apple you eat becomes your body.
Then your artmaking becomes a DIRECT transmission of what's inside you to the rest of the world. How does this work?
Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that by the time a person “makes the decision” to, say, move their left arm, the motor cortex has already sent the signal to move the left arm seconds before. In other words, we only THINK we are making the decision to move the arm. The arm moves by some other force, and we experience this event as our making a decision.
Well, that’s kind of interesting, anyhoo… wait, WHAT?!
That’s right: this means that when you create a picture by drawing, every mark and shape your hand is making is being motivated by something or someone BEFORE YOU ARE DECIDING TO DO IT… in other words, you’re not doing it, in other words… SOMETHING ELSE IN YOU IS DOING THE DRAWING. Some other part of you is making your art for you.
Maybe that sounds crazy. But if you engage in a practice like this long enough, you indeed become patently aware of your uninvolvement. In fact you strive to be more uninvolved. In the flow state your thinking mind is doing nothing at all, then there’s no denying who is doing what. It’s the same with singing or playing an instrument, writing (whether longhand or typing). Creating like this is something you FEEL while it is HAPPENING in REAL TIME. It’s not something you gauge by how proud you are of the results, and it is not about decision-making. I'll say it once more: it's a real time performance.
Figuring out how to open the door to our inner voice wider and more reliably means giving in to ITS needs. It's why we each tend to settle into our particular medium(s) or instrument(s). Whatever works for our inner artist. Maybe YOU want to play the guitar, but IT is a horn player. You want to paint in oils, IT is a watercolorist.
This part of you communicates much more readily (if not exclusively) through the BODY, vs. through thinking. Even when it speaks with words, as in poetry, singing, writing, it is not the same thing as thinking about these things. But our thinking mind tries to claim EVERYTHING.
We get an idea for a picture, we do some stuff, the picture comes, but where is the evidence that “we” imagined anything of the final picture before actually SEEING it, along with the rest of the audience? "Oh, well, the idea is all right there in the thumbnail." No! Too late. You didn't make that thumbnail anyway! So, does the picture really exist in your mind at all before you make anything, or is this an illusion. I think it’s an illusion.
As someone who can paint his own vividly realized pictures, I can tell you I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO LOOK LIKE BEFORE PAINTING THEM. I (think I) have a very rough idea, and I scribble some notion of composition or gesture. I "know what I'm going to draw"— but by that I mean I'm confident that the artist in me is going to work this stuff out once I stick a pencil or stylus in his hand.
Working through a picture, in the micro sense, is teasing out the specific idea by letting your inner artist draw things. Instead of getting frustrated because it's not drawing what YOU want, take a chance and let it draw what IT wants. It's much better at this than you are!
In the macro sense, working through visual idea after visual idea, by making pictures, is training your inner artist to become an expert in the language of pictures, while training the whole bodymind to accept a comfortable balance between the conscious and the unconscious parts of you. This is a priceless reward in itself, regardless of how your art compares to others.