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


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