Courting Medusa: The 3 stages of a creative life

January 26, 2010

While it is true that many creative people in history have suffered many forms of malady from birth, both physical and emotional, the creative life itself can become quite literally maddening.

This article will study three distinct stages during a creative lifetime and the effect this can have upon the mental wellbeing of the creative individual.

01 Seeking inspiration
In the initial stage, during the early development of creativity, the creative individual wants to grow to their full creative potential as quickly as possible, so as to maximise their output as a fully-matured creative mind.

The creative individual will seek to analyse themselves and their artistic processes in order to develop themselves further. They will study a range of factors (such as their historical influences, the times of day at which they achieve their creative peak, the input of their peers and contemporaries and the effect of other stimuli in the media and the current cultural scene etc.) in order to find the right mix and work processes that increase both the quantity and quality of their creative output.

There is also a key desire to understand both the positive and negative contributory elements in order to enable the creative person to be able to switch their creativity on and off like a tap. Particularly in a commercial environment, the pressure to deliver quality, within rapid timeframes set by others, creates the need to remove as much mystique from their source of creativity in order to enable the creative individual to dominate and take full control of it.

02 Conflict begins
The point at which the initial stage moves into the next phase is marked by a single revelation that brings the first period to a dramatic halt.

The fear that arises is that if the creative should ever wholly grasp the full parameters of what feeds their creativity then the creativity will vanish and dry up in an instant. Like a mysterious gas within a balloon, it will escape as soon as the balloon is opened up to for examination.

It is the mysterious and abstract nature of creativity that is, in itself, part of the engine that drives the creative power behind the individual. But the creative individual’s inspiration is still a critical factor and cannot be ignored. It must still be nurtured and cultivated, but maintained at a distance.

The need now arises for the creative to never lose sight of their inspiration and yet never regard it with direct clarity. It is something that must be maintained within peripheral vision.

The creative individual is likely to attempt a few experimental projects, outside of their regular modus operandi, in order to reintroduce some vague mystery to their creative production and ‘re-blur’ the edges of the fragile creative bubble.

03 Claustrophobia sets in
Where as the transition from the primary stage into the secondary one was marked by a single defining moment, the passage from the middle phase into the third and final stage is less distinct – it is a gradual slide and could well be argued that the third phase is largely the second phase repeated, but more severe.

Despite the attempts of the creative individual to keep their inspirational essence vague, and at a slight distance, the passage of time will inevitably increase their knowledge of what makes them tick.

The repetition of familiar tasks and patterns on top of their inevitable increased knowledge within their field of expertise will make them far more perceptive and intuitive in recognising the processes and environmental conditions that favour their creative output. Much of what has been almost subconscious will now become tangible through familiar patterns forming.

Also the desire to produce originality in the face of all they have created to date means they need to risk getting ever more closer to the creative barrel to scrape what might be left in the bottom. Like Perseus seeking to slay the Medusa, they must get ever closer without looking the creature full in the face.

The need to get closer to something ever more familiar that needs to be kept slightly unfamiliar rapidly erodes the safe ground and leaves a slender pillar to stand on.

To the outside viewer, the huge extent of creative output from a creative lifetime seems a huge world that the creative individual occupies. But to the creative individual within the bubble, the ever shrinking no man’s land between them and their creative inspiration becomes suffocating.

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