Monday, March 7, 2011

On Creativity and Flow

Indoor rock climbing. Photo by www.cliffhanger.com.au

by Patty Lakinsmith

I've been reading lately on the topic of creativity and Flow. You may have heard of the term "flow". Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life" describes flow as, "the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives". To an athlete this is often described as being in "the zone", and others describe it as ecstasy, joy, aesthetic rapture, being in the moment, and such. Simply, it is completely focused motivation.

Activities or situations that can induce a flow experience have a number of things in common:

1. There is a set of clear goals.
2. Immediate feedback is received.
3. A person's skills are required to overcome a challenge (e.g. a technical problem in your medium or design) that is just shy of his or her ability to meet.

Presumably, flow occurs when someone has a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. So, in a game these would be the "rules" of the game, and in art they may be more self-imposed, such as those faced in some kind of challenge. Feedback is available to tell you whether you are succeeding or not in the activity, and lastly, the activity provides a challenge that is difficult enough to sustain motivation and interest but just within reach of your skill level.

I have personally experienced flow in a wide variety of settings: in graduate school projects, in work projects, some athletic activities, and in lampworking, but most notably and memorably in the latter. It's classic - I'm completely focused and don't hear the phone ring, I lose track of time and fail to hear messages my body is sending me ("your shoulder hurts!", "you really should go to the bathroom, don't you think?", and "when was the last time you ate?"). This is flow, and I must say, it is highly addictive and divine.

I usually can't achieve flow when I'm doing something from someone else's playbook. That is, a highly prescribed custom order (which I rarely do), or things that I know I have to do. But give me a challenge, e.g. a bead that can double as a mechanical element in a piece of jewelry , and a stretch of time where I know I have no other obligations and won't be interrupted, and I'll lose myself in blissful concentration.

Have you experienced flow in your creative adventures? What does it feel like to you? Have you noticed any trends about when it may or may not occur? Do you have a time tested method that is sure to get you in a flow state?

9 comments:

MaCarroll Beads said...

Well, the first thing that I can identify with is the messages that you ignore... "Your shoulder hurts," "The dog might need to go out and pee!" "Oh shoot, he did need to!!" These are fresh in my mind because they happened yesterday. Sometimes starting a glazing project takes some manual prodding from my brain. Once I get going though, I'm on a mission. It's not that I mind the glazing that much, but the product really isn't pretty until it gets fired. I'm been making myself work with some crawl glazes (favorites of Kelli) which really can be a pain since they take multiple coats and the glaze chips off easily while working with them...which means.... more coats!! I was determined to stick with it yesterday, because I have found an underglaze which makes these just come out so cool...that even I have fallen in love with them! My flow was full speed ahead until I realized I needed to stop and go to bed :O)

Barbara Lewis said...

This is a great post Patty! The flow is what got me addicted to art. When I was in college I lost myself in painting and drawing. I have just recently identified that the anxiety I feel when my life becomes too hectic ... with multi-tasking too many things ... can be cured by creating flow in the studio. I have recently began to stop myself in my tracks and go to the flow. I feel my blood pressure lower, my mind calm, and the tightness in my stomach disappear. It's like taking an aspirin for a headache ... but so much better!

Patty said...

Mary Ann, you touched on a big area that I missed - neglected family members and pets! These are huge signs that you've found the flow (sounds like your dog did too...).

Patty said...

Barbara, you mentioned an important point as well - that there are some incredible, natural therapeutic benefits to finding the flow as well. What better medicine after a hectic day at work, or to help you work through some kind of unrelated emotional challenge. And you have some wonderful artwork to show for it.

VanBeads said...

I have certainly experienced that while doing beadweaving. Once I find my rhythm, I tend to get lost in whatever it is that I'm doing. For a while there (before I had my son in 2008), I would have to put a video on so that when it was over, I was forced to get up and change the tape. A dvd would just go on repeat, and then I'd find myself stiff and sore. At least when I was at the torch or the kiln, I was moving around a lot, putting hot beads in the kiln, grabbing some new glass, etc.

I think it's hard for my husband to understand how I can sit and bead for two or three hours while our son is napping. First, it's easier for me to sit because I've been running around after a 3-year-old all morning! Second, it's because when I get in that beadweaving "zone", I'm totally absorbed in my work and the meditative nature of the stitching. If my husband is sitting down for more than 10 minutes, he's usually asleep...!!!

D'Arsie Manzella said...

I get into the flow when I am casting with a new mold. I will work it, cutting sprues, opening channels, until all the new beads have been been revealed. This can take hours and my husband will bring me food because he knows I will forget to eat! It is so exhilarating. Thank you for this thought provoking post! I am going to pay attention to what brings this state into my life more frequently~

mairedodd said...

it is transcendent... and occurs infrequently due to the highly interrupted environment that accompanies having 3 busy kids in the house... but when i do, i love it... and i feel so accomplished... working with metal and writing get me into that place...
this was a wonderful post...

sharon said...

Beautiful post! The serendipity of the flow process creates such a high that it is impossible to stop, and you continue to reach the goal effortlessly, like you knew what you were doing when you started but you really didn't. It is like a tiny miracle to me. I call it a pulse, and I don't feel it in it's full effect too often, which makes me appreciate it greatly!

Kelli said...

Oh "the zone". I know it well. When I'm making jewelry, I forget to take breaks.... who needs to eat or drink or go to the bathroom when the creative juices are flowing? I get absolutely lost in creation when I make jewelry. I love it. Everything else just falls away; stress, work, worries. It's not just creative therapy, it's my "happy place". :)

face
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...