Art as Salvation—Creating “in Flow”

This week Hazel Dooney published a very intimate post called “Art Saves” on her blog, Self vs. Self. Dooney is dealing with the recent death of her father and wrote a brief comment on how art has been her salvation in this time of grief. She mentions the routine, the “almost mechanical tedium” that helps keep her sane.

While I do not doubt that the tedium and the routine serve to engage her mind and body, I suspect that there is more to it than that.  There are many opinions about Hazel Dooney, but no one would challenge her creativity.  Creative people, when they are working, enter what amounts to an altered state. Their bodies and minds are fully engaged in the work before them, whether that work is pure creation or the filling in of detail on a piece that already exists.

Some would call it “concentration,” but it is much more than that. It is total mental (and sometimes physical) engagement—to the exclusion of nearly everything else.  In theatre, we call it “being in the moment.” Athletes refer to it as being “in the zone.” Psychologists call it “flow.”

Beginning artists, I find, often don’t know about this phenomenon, much less how to achieve it. It is a difficult thing to teach, and perhaps a more difficult thing to learn. However, once you have experienced it and practiced it, it becomes second nature. You don’t think about it anymore; you just shift into it when it is required.

For example, when I walked into the theatre tonight for rehearsal, I had a number of things on my mind; the day had not gone as I had planned. We set about the rehearsal and I did my part in shaping the play currently in production. Only at break did I realize that the rest of the universe had completely vanished for the duration of the first portion of the rehearsal. I was fully engaged. There was nothing on my mind except the production. There was nothing else in the world except the production. Everything in my being was engrossed in making the play the best it could be.

The same thing happens when I am involved in shooting photographs or sitting at a computer editing them. Getting the image “right” is the only important thing. For the time it takes to do the work, the world disappears. Time evaporates. There is only the work.  These are not the only indications that you are “in the moment,” just the most obvious. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, originator of the term “flow” has identified ten factors that accompany the experience.

So I certainly understand when Hazel Dooney says “Art saves;” it has saved me in times of severe emotional stress. The very act of creation takes the artist out of the world, out of him/herself. The only existence is in the work—at least for a time. And there is no question that the discipline of showing up at the studio, computer, theatre, easel, and starting to do what needs to be done, entering into the routine and the potential tedium, aids the artist in slipping into the flow experience.

Susan K. Perry maintains that when you “create in flow” you are more creative, the work is easier, and you are more likely to produce good work. I would not disagree. I would even go one step further and say that unless you are “in flow,” unless you are completely engaged, it is likely that the work you produce will not be excellent; competent, perhaps, but not outstanding in any way. And Perry is absolutely correct: once you move into flow, the work is easier, the product better.

Art, practiced this way, can indeed save you—from the world, from your cares, from your worries, from yourself.

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Date: Sunday, 20. February 2011 23:42
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Photography, Theatre

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    […] subconscious, and the ultimate process by which we get there is called flow (discussed previously here, here, here, and […]

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