Creativity can be so Messy

by Barbara Martin

in Creativity

A behind the scenes look at a Real Artist or Real Writer or Real Creative-Person-Doing-Fill-in-the-Blank in action frequently reveals a less than neat and tidy process going on.

Let’s face it, the creative product is the result of many forces at work over a period of time. Some of these forces are predictable, like learning the skills necessary to craft the end result, or showing up so the work can get done.

Some are unpredictable, like the mixture of whatever swirls in the creative well, or how we grapple with our focus and our energy or how we muster our inner resources to begin (or to finish), or the courage to share our work.

For example, this New Yorker cartoon  illustrates one way the creative process be busy working behind closed doors. On the one hand it brings to mind the unsavory sausage factory (or maybe those restaurants where …) but I felt a stab of recognition:  how it feels to me when things are not proceeding smoothly!

Creativity can be unruly. An energetic wild spirited beast. Unpredictable. Messy. We might be tempted to attack it with the meat cleaver!

Creative people spin many plates at a time when we are actively creating and it  can get messy and we sometimes flail. Even with the best of intentions, even when we are prepared, even when we show up with courage and a plan.

Sometimes things get away from us and we smash the plates in frustration, sometimes the plates swoop effortlessly in graceful arcs, sometimes it’s all we can do to watch them shower down around us. Sometimes our best work happens when we are picking up the pieces!

It’s always good to keep a sense of humor. It helps with the perspective, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Sure, it might be a disastrous mess. A lesson in better ways to sweep up smithereens as a moving meditation.  Or it might be a serendipitous occurrence,  a dash of inspired make-it-do that takes us in an entirely felicitous new direction with thrilling results. Or it might mean a bit of a course correction, pick yourself up that ninth time and try it yet again.

Creative people have incredible heart and courage and passion tied up in what they do, day in and day out. Give yourself credit for that!

Do you see your creative self in that cartoon scene? Does your studio feel like the picture? How about your mind when the unconscious is busy solving creative problems for you? How about when you are chasing your own tail battling your creative monsters? 

Seriously, that is one heckuva shrimp boil wanna-be goin’ on!

Speaking of which, maybe someday I’ll tell you about the pizzas on the washing line in my den.


Megan April 21, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Woah – a meat cleaver. What an awesome metaphor for how demoralizing the shoulding can be.

And mmm I’d love to learn about your pizzas any time.

Dave April 23, 2010 at 7:54 am

Hi Barabara,

I really relate to the cartoon, creating always brings me face to face with the fact that I’m not entirely in control of the process. It’s a difficult thing to grapple with, but if it wasn’t for that sense of difficulty I don’t think it would even be a creative process. It would lose something, and just become ‘doing stuff.”

I Love the spinning plate metaphor, too!

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