Between Chaos & Control, Part One [Guest Post]
“Creativity is when chaos and control come together – you and the work become connected and energized.” – Kristopher Matheson
You’ve read about or talked with someone who you think is creative, complimented their creativity, and possibly even asked them where their creativity comes from. This is often when creatives get stuck. So often we lack the words and understanding to describe our own creativity that we ramble on about inspiration from other creatives, early childhood influences, and our travels. So how do we account for the moments of sudden creativity and inspiration? For that, we have to find where creativity lives. For some, it lives in a place between certainty and uncertainty, convergence and divergence or the left and right brain. I think creativity lives somewhere different. I’ll take you through the place where I believe my creativity comes from—between chaos and control—and how I go about trying to keep myself creative.
I begin projects in a vacuum of utter control – I plan, create lists, draw crude diagrams, jot down questions I think are important, do research. It’s all very organized. I’ve realized that you, me, artists, creatives (whether musicians, writers, chefs, painters, teachers, parents, etc), we are “control”. After micromanaging the details to near death I begin working; this is where all good plans fall apart. The work (be it painting, photography, cooking, child rearing, woodworking, etc) is “chaos”. In your own work you may have noticed this chaos, an uncovering of the unknown in the material that’s different from your initial vision. At this point it’s easy to grow attached to the work. We think it’s special and deserves to be created, to be controlled by us and made for us. However, the work won’t always allow that. We have to be open to the idea that the work has a life of its own, independent yet part of us. We also have to be prepared for being pushed into a new unknown region, one we couldn’t have planned for – this region is “creativity”.
Creativity is one of our most valued human traits, alongside patience and compassion. On the whole, we value creativity in others, but we diminish our own. If you ask someone if they are creative, they will furrow their brow and say “No”. But this same person knows one or two people who are really creative. People wish they were more creative, while failing to realize their own creativity. Take a moment and think, what was the last creative thing you’ve done? Everyone is creative—yes, even you—you just haven’t realized it yet.
- You plan a meal, forget one ingredient so you substitute something else.
- You’re driving to work, but a bad accident has stopped you, so you drive a different way.
- You work in a restaurant and get slammed with orders, so you prioritize, organize, delegate.
- You’re a student who has left your essay to the last day, so you pull an all-nighter researching and writing and finish on time.
These are all forms of creativity (the student example isn’t the best form of creativity but at least they started and finished). Creativity is when we use our minds, what I call our “reservoirs of knowledge and understanding,” to overcome tasks. When observing, absorbing, considering, engaging an obstacle that needs to be overcome, we all arrive with a variety of solutions, this is creativity.
You are probably still unsure if you are creative. So try this simple exercise. How many …
- ways can you prepare breakfast each day?
- uses for a brick can you come up with?
- different routes can you take to work?
- activities can you think of to spend your day off?
- ways can you save money?
I would wager that you were able to come up with more than one solution to each of the problems—some more obvious and easier than others. I can think of 5 easy ways to walk to the nearest train station; I can also think of grinding the brick down into a fine powder in order to make paint. Being creative and living a creative life can mean coming up with a large number of possibly outcomes, rather than just a sequential series that arrives at one solution.
The specifics of the creative process vary depending on the type of creativity. Writing a novel is different from creating inorganic compounds or creating a new dance routine. But the basic principles and processes are the same. Here’s an outline of what I went through while working on an upcoming art project:
- I start with an idea.
- I research, gather knowledge and skills, prepare, plan and make conscious decisions.
- I begin creating.
- I engage in reflection and unconscious thinking.
- I experience inspiration, the “eureka” moment where a solution presents itself.
- I experiment.
- I reach a point of conclusion and create something.
On paper, this process looks neat and tidy. Don’t be fooled—it’s not linear and each person must develop and discover their own style. Anyone claiming to know THE process or the “10 Simple Steps to Achieve Creative Breakthroughs” is selling snake oil. My creative process is built around constant reflection and change; there’s a constant interplay between all steps. There is no A leads to B which leads to C, but rather a constant back and forth push and struggle between my control and the chaos of the work.
Perhaps you have experienced your mind working in mysterious ways as I have. There have been many times when I struggle with a project for hours, decide to let it go, lay down for a nap, then BAM! Suddenly I jump up racing for pen and paper to jot down a note. Often this sudden inspiration is not the solution for the problem at hand, more like a piece of a puzzle with shifting images and with no picture on the box. These flashes of discovery which characterize the creative process bubble up to our conscious mind from our accumulated knowledge, understanding, and experiences. They aren’t always flashes or “eureka” moments, sometimes just a gut feeling, an instinct, or even that little voice inside your head telling you to go left rather than right.
Creativity is when chaos and control come together—you and the work become connected and energized. It’s in this state when the joys of creativity are often found, as well are the pangs of despair and failure. So how do we chart a course towards these creative moments, to discover the place within all of us where creativity lives? Can we prepare ourselves for these moments that never happen when we expect them? Once there, how do we navigate through the chaos and control?
Part Two of Between Chaos & Control is available here.
About the author
Kristopher Matheson is a Canadian photographer and writer currently living in Tokyo, Japan.