Creative Blocks from A to Z: Conflicts

paint-palette-and-brushEditor’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.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Olga Gonithellis, MA, MEd, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lauren

    Lauren

    July 10th, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    The hardest lesson for me to learn was that conflict can be a good thing, too. You have to look at the positive sides of the situation and let it transform your creativity.

  • stan

    stan

    July 10th, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    As a writer I find that I often do my best work when I am feeling a great deal of stress and pressure. Somehow for me that little bit of tension only adds to my creativity. Added to that I find that when I write in this state then that is very therapeutic for me and allows me to express what I am really feeling inside in a way that is both full of expression for others but cathartic for me.

  • norma S

    norma S

    July 11th, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    I am the opposite of the previous posters. For me stress takes away every ounce of creativity that I may possess! :(

  • Kevin B

    Kevin B

    July 12th, 2013 at 5:16 AM

    I try to make a very conscious effort to learn from life’s little foibles, and not look at just the ways that they are negatively affecting me but also taking a closer look at what I can learn and how they can help me become something better.
    Believe me, this is not always the easiest thing to do. What I really want to do is throw my hands up in frustration and question what I have been given. But I take a step back and try to remember that there is a deeper purpose and meaning there that maybe I am not aware of yet, maybe I won’t ever be aware of. Such is life, and my job here on Earth is to make the ebst of the life that I have been given and make the most of the channces that are today mine.

  • pERCY

    pERCY

    July 14th, 2013 at 12:02 AM

    I enjoy writing short stories.Never published any but they are a nice way to let our my feelings and bring to life what is inside my mind.I find that conflict messes things up for me.It brings in this sense of uncertainty that is so hard to overcome once it sets in.I would prefer my mind to never be in a state of conflict if I had my way.Not just for writing stories but in general.

  • John Jessop

    John Jessop

    July 29th, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    I can really relate to many points in this great article. It was some serious internal conflict that led me to eplore internal processing and my passion for investigating the role of creativity in personal development.

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