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  • michelle@aleph

Challenge as a Catalyst for Creativity

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Recently I’ve been pondering my personal creative process and drive, and trying to tap the magick and motivation that I have for client work in order to use it for my own personal creative pursuits. I am a creative powerhouse when it comes to client work but, when left to my own devices, I strangely have limited motivation or momentum to ground creative ideas - they seem to stay hovering in the aether.

Recently, while listening to a lecture by neuroscience researcher and philosopher Dr Iain McGilchrist, I realised the significance of ‘adversarial force’ relating to growth and evolution. He presented the point that often, for nature to achieve it’s ultimate growth, health (or in the case of humans, wellbeing) it must have some force working against it. For example, it has been shown that trees when grown inside a controlled biosphere grow to a certain level of maturity and then quickly deteriorate for some reason. All their environmental needs are being carefully planned and met, but they fail to ultimately thrive. It was posited that one key reason for this is that there is no strong wind to challenge them. The force of the wind - something to act against - prompts the tree to put down stronger roots and grow additional bark, thereby creating more foundational strength and upper resilience. The challenge makes them stronger, resilient, and much more likely to thrive.




How does this relate to the creative process? That was certainly what I asked myself after receiving the initial nudge that the two were related. I realised that for me to do my best work there definitely is a need for some form of ‘challenging force’. The force for me, as far as graphic design goes, is the tension created by wanting to get the best result possible for the client, having a specific timeframe/deadline, and the constraints that the design brief creates. It is also well understood in the commercial design world that design exists to 'solve a visual problem'. No 'problem' to solve = no tension. No tension = no external force propelling me to create! For artists, as opposed to designers (commercial artists, who have the client to provide the tension/challenge) there is often a different form of tension. Creatives seem to have something of an inner tension - something uncomfortable inside that propels them forward towards their best work.


Creative expression seems to be an act of holding ‘just the right amount' of inner tension though; creatives can get very stuck and sit in freeze mode with too much inner tension because creativity needs a certain free-flow of energy. So there’s an elusive sweet spot to hit.

Too much tension ( in my case the cognitive effort involved in design and finding solutions) can quickly lead to creative burnout and blocked energy. Conversely, too much flow can result in a type of complacency and lack of innovation, and this doesn't feel good either. The question I pose to myself (and you?) - Is there a way to hack the 'sweet spot' and find/feel just the right amount of tension to create, while maintaining enough relaxed flow to channel the creativity for myself. With no client and no 'problem' to solve with my craft, can I harness a certain form of tension to propel creation for myself? I’m currently feeling called to explore this dance of flow and tension more. In my work as a brand designer, I have practices to immerse myself in the tension (the design problem). I dream and connect to the client and problem metaphysically to receive initial information and ideas. Then there are seperate practices I use to get into the relaxed, aligned and focused state where the solutions to these problems often seem to flow from my fingertips. So there are very solid foundations to build from here. My initial feeling is that, theoretically, the balance could be found in PURPOSE. As long as there is a strong enough purpose to the artwork, this could provide just enough tension to act as an initiating force for my own projects. If I can connect to the authentic purpose of a piece of my own art/design and then hold that, marinate in that energy, and set an intention for the work, could I then more easily generate the flow state to bring it to life. Let's see what I find...





This blog post was written by a human :)




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