Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Importance of Discomfort in the Creative Process

photo tanner/tieken © 2015
I think its basic human nature to desire comfort, to be and remain comfortable whenever possible. It's just easier, if there's nothing wrong there's no need to change and we can continue on following the same trajectory without much thought. Somehow this state gets mistaken for the "Yes! Now I have arrived!" epiphany/pitfall that's actually the death bell for creativity.

For example, take two seeds from the same indigenous plant, grow one indoors and another outdoors. At first you may see the indoor sprout thriving as the outdoor sprout struggles. We may even think to ourselves "oh, poor outdoor plant, it just doesn't have the same chance."

It's very likely that the outdoor sprout will get knocked down by the wind, and we may pity the sad little thing but in truth something magical happens when stress is applied: the plant changes and evolves, now turning it's efforts to strengthening the stem instead of continuing to weakly reach towards the sun. It may go days without water, forcing the roots to dig deep and tap into reserves hidden beneath the soil. It may have to struggle with a neighboring plant for resources... all the while the indoor plant is quite comfortable and sheltered, but a dire shift has already occurred in the indoor plant. It never had to struggle, it never had to evolve, it never had to adapt so in truth has become dependent on us for it's very survival.

The outdoor sprout, put under the right amount of pressure (not too much just enough to force it to adapt) doesn't need to be babied or coddled.

Creativity is much the same way to me. It's not silence, agreeability and complacency that makes it stronger, it's criticism, discontentment and the drive to be more. Stress and pressure is the force exerted and when mixed with the unwillingness to be defeated or lay down broken that evolution and growth occurs automatically. If you look at the natural world, everything is perpetually ever-evolving, changing, adapting... a story that is telegraphed into every molecule and cell.

Encouragement is important but as in all things extremes are dangerous. If you notice that outdoor plant is dying of thirst, yes, water it! Keep in mind, the balance in life is somewhere in-between, if we abandon the stress created by critical thinking and honest reflection we will have a very weak and needy result that can't endure the test of time or the real creative force of nature. Yet it has to also be nurtured, given access to the resources that can become it's arsenal for survival.

While it's nice to be given complements and told how amazing everything you do is, it can be a great disservice. At a certain point, if you don't learn to detach your ego from your work and process criticism, moreover learn to be self-critical you can't grow and your work will become stagnant. So it's really a matter of deciding which is more important, being told how great you are or embracing greatness as a verb, an action grounded in struggle and work, not some lofty destination.

Be wary of anyone who comes along and offers to plant, water, shelter and feed your creativity because it will be just as needy and dependent as our poor indoor plant. Step into discomfort, embrace fear, reach for the unknown and rejoice in the lessons learned from failure. Instead of searching for compliments, cultivate that drive to survive, that force within oursleves to push through, your creativity will bare fruit and you won't need anyone to tell you how great your work is. Count every battle scar, view your work critically, and revel in the process of your potentially uncomfortable evolution. This is where real creative freedom resides, the strength and wisdom revealed through the willingness to embrace the inevitability of both failure and success.

Anyone promising you an easy road through the creative process is trying to sell you something. The creative process requires work, it demands passion. It doesn't care what you achieved last year or yesterday, it doesn't need the perfect studio or the perfect equipment, those are just environmental influences. When passion and drive fuels the creative process limitations are just obstacles waiting for their future antidote to be discovered.

Until next time, create, practice and persevere... what we cultivate today is the foundation of our artistic expression tomorrow.  Sincerely, Wanaree

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