Posts Tagged ‘creative limitations’


IMAGO FLOW: Creative Limitations – Part I

February 11, 2013

Limitations can enrich or hinder creativity. The difference is in knowing how to make them work for, not against you. The following is the first of two posts on how limitations affect creativity.

I have a love-hate relationship with limitations.  Especially when creating.

When limitations work in my favor I allow them to participate in my creative process; but when they get in my way I spurn them like a Ferrari in Detroit.

Creative flow

Creating in-the-zone allows no stopping to eat… or sleep… or run to the bathroom. Until recently I thought this singular focus was artistic eccentricity.  Turns out there is a scientific reason for neglecting food and drink during a creative frenzy that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (how do you pronounce that?!?) calls spontaneous flow or flow experience.1

Mr. C says the human nervous system can process, or attend to, a total of 110 bits of info per second.  That’s not very much—listening to one person talk takes 60 bits. That’s why we can’t understand two people talking at once. It’s physiologically impossible. 2

Creating in-the-zone uses all 110 bits of human brain bandwidth. So hunger, sleepiness, and even being self-aware don’t register when creativity is humming like a V-8 engine firing on all cylinders fed with high-octane petrol.

When you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new… you don’t have enough attention left over to monitor how your body feels or [think about] your problems at home.  You can’t even feel that you are hungry or tired.  Your body disappears. Your identity disappears from your consciousness because you don’t have enough attention, none of us does, to do something really well that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time, to feel that you exist. So existence is temporarily suspended. 3

No time to eat

This was true for George F. Handel, composer of MESSIAH, which includes the Hallelujah Chorus, one of the most-loved choral works of all time.  Handel began composing the oratorio August 22, 1741. Part One was finished in six days. Nine days later, Part Two was completed. Another six days and Part Three was done. Two days later – 23 days, start to finish – he finalized the orchestration. The story goes that during the composing, he rarely left his room or touched his meals, writing like a mad man—most assuredly firing at 110 bits of information per second—and therefore, unable to notice his most basic needs.

I can’t compare myself to Handel, but I do know something of the intense concentration that makes hours fly with half-eaten meals long since forgotten and cold.


Like the time I worked on this mosaic for a sermon series at Trinity. I began working in the late afternoon, painted through the night, and finished the assembly in a stupor more than 36 hours later. The creative process during that weekend is still a blur to me. I moved from one task to another, as if the process was all decided, and I simply progressed to the next section or task. I don’t remember eating or doing much else except working.

I get like this when writing, too. It’s not uncommon for me to begin writing in the morning, only to realize “minutes” later that the sun has set and everyone wants dinner. On days like these I completely understand the disconnect of time between our world and Narnia!

Since watching Mr. C’s video, I now know there is a scientific explanation for ignoring everything except my current creative project. And I know I’m not loony! Where Mr. C and science fall short, however, is describing the reason for the intense focus.

Imago flow

I believe this drive is part of what it means to be created Imago Deiin the image of God. He created the world, and then made people in his creative image. He created for seven days straight—and then he rested.

Csikszentmihaly calls it “spontaneous flow” or “flow experience”.

I call it the image of God creating through me.


1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness at 11:05.

2. Ibid; 8:30.

3. Ibid at 8:50. The tenses and broken English have been cleaned up a little for better readability.


Part 3: God’s Creative Process

August 24, 2012

(This is the third in a series of articles entitled DIVINE CREATIVITY that will present a Biblical apologetic and study on why people are creative. This series contains Scripture passages to read and questions to answer.  Recording your insights in a creative journal may be a valuable exercise.)

 >>Read Genesis 1 and 2  and make a list of everything you learn about how God creates.

While there are some aspects of how God created the world that we can’t copy (speaking physical entities into being, for instance) there are several principles in Genesis 1-2 that we can imitate.

The first is repeated six times: God worked within a 24-hour framework that He established from the beginning.  Whether you apply this to giving yourself a project deadline, determining a limited palate, or some other parameters, the truth is, limitations are an important part of the creative process.

The irony makes my spirit laugh!  That which seems to work against creativity is often the catalyst to greater expression.  I have begun to embrace limitations as a challenge to resolve the apparent clash between them and artistry.

>>What are some limitations that chafe your creative impulses?  What are some limitations you (or others) can impose on your work to force you to be more creative?

Another aspect we can copy from God’s creative process is His indistinction between beauty and function.  As God created the various aspects of the world, He combined the two: their function was essential, and their form was beautiful.  The lights in the sky determined the days, season, and years and glowed in brilliant beauty.  The plants fed Adam and Eve and provided a feast for their eyes.  Function did not disqualify beauty; both were valid.  Even today we see this inseparable combination in our fallen world.  The sun must still set to mark the day’s end, but the accompanying blaze of color transports its function into the realm of glory.

God also created lavishly and abundantly.  Not content with just one kind of tree, He created tree after tree by changing the leaf shape, the branching pattern, and bark texture.  Then he moved on from deciduous to coniferous to palm and to shrub before He began His “flowers” series, which was followed by his aviary phase and pachyderm period.

Each kind He created had numerous, and sometimes innumerable, variations.  Entomologists continue to discover new insects on jungle floors; marine biologists are still finding marvelous new species in the ocean depths.  Each unique organism is a pointer at God’s profuse imagination and ability, as well as His systematic approach, unveiling another seeming contradiction— that imagination and organization can not only co-exist, but influence and contribute to each other’s success.

>>What benefits are there to working in series?  What parts of your creative process would benefit from better organization?  List ideas and people with expertise in those areas who may be able to help you.

Next week: Deep Wisdom and Understanding
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