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


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