28 February 2013

Emotions And Thoughts In The Creative Process

How can you separate emotions and thoughts from the creative process? My answer is that you cannot—they’re positively intertwined.

When I was working on the ‘Creativity Interviews’, some artists I interviewed spoke about walking away from their art when they’re feeling emotional—taking a break or getting some distance.

But others talked about using their art to process challenging emotional experiences; pouring their heart out into their work and using it as a cathartic and therapeutic experience.

So we can see that there are a few different sides to this story. There are the emotions and thoughts we bring into our work with us, there are the emotions and thoughts we have about our creative work, there are the emotions and thoughts that are evoked in us as we work creatively and there are the emotions and thoughts we evoke in others when we share our work with the world.


Artists spoke of achieving, “the right mental landscape—a mind clear of external disturbances”, mental clarity—the “freedom from disruptive and negative thoughts, upset from personal life” or a positive outlook. (The Creativity Interviews, page 5)

We want that clear mental landscape, and yet we bring a LOT into the creative landscape with us.

When we embark upon creating something, we bring our whole selves into the process with us. Our prior experiences (and our thoughts and feelings about those), the state of our physical body (and our thoughts and feelings about that), our hopes and expectations of the future (and our thoughts and feelings about those), our relationships (and our thoughts and feelings about those) and, of course, our creativity and creative skills (and our thoughts and feelings about those).


Worth a special mention are those thoughts and feelings that we have about our creative lives. Do we deserve this time to create? Have we given ourselves permission to do it?

What messages have we gotten throughout our lives about taking time for creative expression? Do we value our work? How has our work been judged by others and how do we feel about that? How do we judge our own work?

It seems that self-awareness is key. The more we understand these thoughts and feelings for what they are, the more time we spend evaluating them, questioning them, and discussing them with others, the better.

With greater self-awareness and understanding, we’re able to incorporate these elements into our work, instead of having them be something we need to fight against or overcome.

And when we bring them into our work, our work takes on a new depth, since it’s drawn from a fuller range of our emotions and thoughts.

On the other hand, when we’re left fighting against those negative and distorted thoughts and troubling emotions, and trying to work in spite of them, then stress, self-doubt, paralyzing procrastination and performance anxiety can result.


“Several artists spoke about surrendering to the unknown, acknowledging their spirituality (higher power, higher self) and being in flow—being part of a larger cycle of creation, re-birth, and evolution over time.” (The Creativity Interviews, page 5)

Sometimes our desired mental landscape can be attained only by rising above everything we bring with us into the creative realm. When we reach this higher state of existence—a connection with spirit, with the universal creative flow, with all the art that’s been created before us and all of the art that will be created in all of time—our real-life concerns fall away.

This amazing experience is often cited as the reason we just can’t stay away, we just can’t give up our creative dreams even though we struggle with them.

“Many of the artists described highly creative times when they are responding to strong emotions and want to express them through their art— transduce them from one form of energy to another. These emotions are sometimes brought on by other pieces of art they are witnessing—the depth of their experience as a listener or observer inspires creative expression from them—a desire to participate in the creation.” (The Creativity Interviews, page 7)

Sometimes I hear people say that they’ll get to their creative project, their creative dream, as soon as things “calm down” in their life. And yet it’s the creative process itself that’s usually the most effective at bringing about the calmness of mind and emotional stillness that we crave.

And we need this calm and stillness in order to respect the stages of the creative process. The “incubation” period, for instance, when ideas are forming, percolating, developing or cocooning.

“Watch me. I’m making a cocoon. It looks like I’m hiding, I know, but a cocoon is no escape. It’s an in between house where the change takes place. It’s a big step since you can never return to caterpillar life.

“During the change, it will seem to you, or to anyone who might peek, that nothing is happening—but the butterfly is already becoming. It just takes time.”

—From Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus

If we’re not calm and centered, connected to that universal creative flow, we get impatient with this phase of creation and want to rush it along.

And when we can surrender to the moment, give ourselves over to unknown results and lose ourselves to the present moment, we’re achieving life skills that other people spend years to develop through meditation and other spiritual and bodywork practices.

While my view of self-care certainly advocates a serene and peaceful life as an ideal, it's not about shooing away the more tumultuous emotions and harmful thoughts, but processing them, giving them a voice and then letting them go.

And practicing our art is a GREAT way to do this.

It provides a mirror, both in the moment and later, of how we were feeling and what our thought processes were in the moment of creation.


That leads us to the last piece of this topic—the thoughts and feelings that our work may evoke in others, when we choose to share it with the world.

Our expression can help those out there who have neither the words NOR the creative outlet to express their own feelings. I’ve experienced this myself, when I find that a songwriter has hit on my own feelings or experience and all of a sudden I have a way to explain how I’ve been feeling. And not just explain, but express it by singing along.

“When we feel, we begin to be alive. When we express a feeling, we share with the rest of the world that we are alive. When we express a feeling through music, we invite the rest of the world to share in our experience of the feeling, and to be alive with us.”—Source Unknown

Imagine the impact of something you created while in the state of flow—do you think someone who's listening to, looking at, wearing or handling that creation can experience even a tiny bit of what you were experiencing? We have to believe that they can.

In my work as a music therapist, I infuse every note that I play and sing with my intention to bring joy, life and healing to my clients. And I see the evidence every day that my intention meets its mark.

So meet your emotions and thoughts in the creative realm. See what colors they are, what they want to say and become and what forms they want to take. And then let them out to play with others.

Top image from The Creative Finder.

This is a cross-post from Talent Develop Resources.

Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, helps artists enhance their creativity by addressing their unique self-care issues. Feel like your creativity is blocked? Would you like to receive Linda’s newest articles about creativity and self-care in your Inbox once a month? Subscribe to the Everyday Artist newsletter. It’s FREE, and it includes the popular e-course “Roadblocks to Creativity”—visit her site Genuine Coaching Services.

Douglas Eby, M/A Psychology, is a writer, researcher and online publisher on the psychology of creative expression and personal growth. He is author of the Talent Development Resources series of sites.