Editor’s note: This article is the third in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month the topic is conflicts.
“The creative process starts with a sense that there is a puzzle somewhere, perhaps there is a conflict, a tension, a need to be satisfied.” —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
Let us look at how the experience of internal and external conflicts can help, or perhaps hinder, the creative process. What happens to the creative flow when someone experiences opposing forces, conflicting emotions, and incongruent perceptions of the world? Could this contribute to a stirring of ideas leading to creative expression?
Some may find the response to this question to be intuitively affirmative and reflective of their creative journey. For example, a visual artist who has grown up in a religious environment but finds himself questioning religion may experience a conflict represented through his art. Similarly, a writer who notices a tension between her need for solitude and her need for the presence of others may be inspired to give voice to these feelings in her story’s characters.
On the other hand, conflicts may also be perceived as distracting and harmful for the creative process. An artist may feel that being “stuck” between two contradicting emotional states takes away from the focus and attention needed to create and to be productive. For example, being conflicted about how to handle a personal problem may cause frustration and, in turn, diminish creative energy.
In order to get an “inside” perspective on these issues, this month’s article asks three creative individuals to share their views on what role conflicts play in their creativity. Italian literature instructor Aria Cabot considers conflicts to be instrumental in generating new ideas: “By addressing inner conflict through external, creative channels, we loosen our grip on what we perceive to be well-defined personal sources of pain, anger, fear, etc. As we release these sensations, we don’t necessarily free ourselves of them completely, but we are able to gain a new sense of perspective on them and, more importantly, see them as existing outside of ourselves.”
Visual artist Stavros Pavlides experiences conflicts as a starting point but not a destination when creating art. He views conflicts over one’s purpose, experiences, and emotions to be “incentives to think, to make new connections, and therefore, yes, to generate new ideas and hopefully actions. If, however, they are overwhelming, then you freeze and risk depression, entropy, or any of those wonderful emotions that make life an uphill battle. (I think that) to make a truly excellent piece of art, you must not be conflicted at all about what it is you’re saying.”
Taking it a step further, experimental musician Thomas Watkiss considers conflicts to be associated with confusion, and “a negative factor on creative work.” He reports that “conflict can only hinder action and is a negative factor on creative growth. I don’t feel it is possible to be conflicted about one’s identity or purpose, because to have ‘identity’ or ‘purpose’ one must have a sense of direction and confidence in the decision-making process. I don’t think that conflict, even as an act, works well with an audience, and your audience can detect any uncertainty in your performance. If you are not certain about yourself, the audience is not certain about you, either.”
Every artist or creative individual will experience conflicts in a unique way. While they may not be necessary for creative expression, and while some may argue that they can be detrimental, conflicts may allow for someone to reflect, think, and challenge, adding to the depth and breadth of one’s creative work. If you feel like you are going through conflicting experiences, whether emotional, cognitive, or situational, you may want to explore how they might relate to your creative work. By doing so, you may find a starting point for creativity or you may simply identify the need to resolve the conflict prior to beginning the creative process.
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