Monday, March 10, 2008

Balancing Flow & Creative Control

The psychologist Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term flow to describe the mental state when a person is fully focused, energized and involved in what they are doing. Also referred to being "in the zone", this state is a characteristic of the creative process.

When I first read about Csikszentmihalyi's description of flow, I recognized it immediately as the name for the state I often experience when painting or doing sports like skiing or windsurfing.

When I'm fully immersed in painting I'm in the flow state. In the arts, I describe flow as the sense of my body being a conduit through which the art flows unimpeded. I feel as though I have left my conscious mind behind and gone to a state I call super-consciousness, where I've given up critical thought, allowing the work to manifest.

At first, I thought that I would be more creative if I stretched these periods of super - consciousness. While working, I'd notice that I was in flow and use meditation techniques to resist the urge to "surface" from the flow to a controlling thought. I discovered that it didn't really result in better work. For me, balancing flow with creative control results in an experience I can only describe as a sense of flow that takes the shape of a long zig zag. Whether the shape "zigs" up or "zags" down, the axis of the shape always continues forwards.

The time when I stand back and assess my efforts and consciously decide (or control) what to do next is the "zag". The time of unimpeded flow is the "zig". Flow happens, flow doesn't happen. And the cycle repeats.

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