Why does popular culture depict creativity as ‘chaotic’?

Sheila Chandra - Thursday, October 19, 2017

We’ve all seem the films and read the novels where the artist genius’ life is chaos. Perhaps they’re tortured by their vision of the world, perhaps they’re emotionally chaotic – but in any depiction where creativity itself is almost a main character, you’re almost sure to find visual and domestic chaos. Why is that?


Creativity as ‘chaotic’ is visual shorthand

I mean think about it. If you’re a director, or a photographer, you’ve got a real problem when depicting creativity. It happens in the artist’s head. So how on earth do you show it? How do you show that it’s part of their essence, not just an ‘event’ in their life? (Actually it is just an ‘event’ in their lives but let’s ignore that for a moment…) After all, who among us really understands what is happening when out of a void, comes the idea we’ve been searching for?

Creativity as ‘chaotic’ is convenient

There is no real way of depicting it – particularly to a viewing public who are, unconsciously I think, actually asking about how some people get to be so brilliantly creative while others are not. Ironically, novelists (and therefore screenplay writers and directors) have the answer, but all these categories of people don’t think to apply it to depictions of artistry. Why? Because the answer turns out to be just a little bit boring, and not the conflict-ridden ‘juice’ that their book, screenplay or film requires to make it successful.

Why are some people ‘creative’ and others not?

Well novelists tell us, that ‘character is destiny’. What a character thinks over and over, leads to what s/he does over and over, and those repeated actions, for good or bad, shape their life. Well, being ‘creative’ is just a tolerance for sitting with the ‘blank page’, and focusing the mind on the problem, until an idea comes. And if you do that over and over and over, it becomes ‘who you are’. Similarly, if you regularly potter about in your garden, in a few years, you’re going to be known as a ‘gardener’. And if you put some real effort into it, you’re likely to become a great gardener. Certainly more likely than if what you do is remain in your armchair… Similarly with being a brilliant creator. So, as the old joke says ‘The way to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice…’

So why do even creative people fall for the ‘creativity is chaotic’ myth?

It’s not comfortable sitting with that void. I hate it, to be honest. There’s no guarantee you’re going to come up with anything good. I’ve said that ‘being creative’ is a ‘tolerance’ for sitting with the void for a reason. Most creative people are a bit discomforted by it. And it’s only by building up a ‘tolerance’ for a discomforting experience that they get to earn the title ‘creator’.

Maybe it’s very infiniteness of possibility that’s the intimidating thing. After all, what could come out of our imaginations might not be convenient or good, but nightmarish. Every creator knows that. Maybe what popular culture is depicting in physical chaos around an artist (in novels and on stage and screen) is the fear we feel ourselves about the mystery of the whole process. And who can blame us?

Depicting creativity as ‘chaotic’ isn’t going to help

The problem is, that isn’t going to help young creators who are just finding their feet. It’s convenient enough for popular culture – not to say lazy – but it gives the wrong impression. Mess is not a mark of genius. Mess is not the inevitable result of having a good idea and being driven to realise it. Mess is not even that special. Every toddler creates it!

Let’s stop seeing creativity as ‘chaotic’ please?

Time to stop using this hackneyed old stereotype. Let’s acknowledge that the most successful artists with longevity are generally organized behind the scenes. They wouldn’t get paid properly if they weren’t. (And no, it’s not the resort of terminally ‘uncool’ artists. Have you thought about the kind of logistics Bowie had to have put in place before his death to get the ‘Blackstar’ album ready to roll in the same week?) Let’s divorce the visual shorthand from reality, the way we realise that a bunch of red roses in a film is shorthand for ‘romance’. Let’s give up-and-coming creators better role models to emulate.

If you’d like to know more about how to set up the career infrastructure you’ll need as a professional creator, download a free excerpt of ‘Organizing for Creative People’.

Post has no comments.
Post a Comment

Captcha Image


Recent Posts


diagnosis control display items peacefulness wind down brands nascent artists focus missed opportunities pop culture dynamic spaces creative people much better friend hobbies diary loving your audience stop cluttering options creativity creative person email overload absences housework much quicker mess fall of innocence creative career crowdfunding binge chaotic criteria for letting go of stuff creative culture organise social media networking networking storage work trips overwork proposals clutter exhaustion business interface to creative businesses home life letting go self promotion home care good art work clearing in short bursts Sheila Chandra author nipping things in the bud compulsion vulnerability inspiration emotional balance resentment artist visualising sacrifice successful artist how to work efficiently home organising artist goals creative commissions making decisions fine art emotionally secure artist : clothes organizing for creative people being organized career strategy artists low maintenance strategies well organized friendships staying in control stardust lazy appointments commitment card creative wellbeing network touring mornings quality platform precious memories low maintenance professional creative career hotel room multiple lifetimes pop music creative magic tortoise and hare brilliant creator under-confidence hijacking creativity great artists hostile clutter static spaces minimalists ‘creativity’ jealousy creative confidence work efficiently too many commitments 2018 goals good friend buy fewer clothes business childhood buying wealth clutter addict motivation tips for clearing cleaning clearing clutter work priorities work life getting ready for work email artist mentors partners artist workspaces tidy desk artistic chaos proposal writing time clutter innocence networking effectively buying youth guilty purchases to do list artist mentoring creative spark artistry efficient work patterns slim-line wardrobe saving time ‘stories’ about your possessions well curated closet goals critical acclaim bulk buy effortlessly tidy morning routines living mess free clarity of thought professional encouragement peer-to-peer networks wardrobe car clear outs work/home life balance creative career coaching too busy boredom tidy people good creative habits streamlining routines collections cleaning your desk tidy cupboard of shame subconscious mind mature artists spree long-term artistic development myth domestic life elevator pitch clearing as you go social media creativity diary creative identity celebrity endorsed products organisation clear desk lifetimes feel like creatiing arrogance nurturing creative work stop hoarding stuff anxiety buying happiness hoarding artist materials why organise tidier temperament magic business-like being tripped up the void sheila chandra coaching copyright stay tidy automatically trope professional mentors concentrated creative time friends clearing imagination emotional resilience disorganization working class artists emotional support symptoms of creativity buying hope culture slow and steady grief nurture creativity artistic conviction productivity popular culture clean desk theft stay on top of email VIPs creative organising creative ambitions inconvenience email bankruptcy warm down tension double standard feeling creative vocation funding buying stardust new year living clutter free how to save time procrastination writing funding campaigns workspaces working class culture introverts how to be naturally tidy confident in clothes loss branding normality just in case tidiness in living spaces green room business-speak smart artists parent great art cry