Tuesday, 5 September 2006

The Flow

Behold! That is a lie! They are also called comedians, writers, dancers, painters, artists in general. Why, beautiful people, these artists attract us so much? Why, ladies and gentlemen, do we have orgasms on the dance floor, shivers in the art gallery, giggles in the studio, bliss on the Internet and all sorts of emotions flooding our brains when we are exposed to art? Don't you worry, oh Buddha child. I'm going to tell you why. It all starts inside the bodies of these skillful human beings who managed to merge action and awareness and feel the FLOW. We feel the flow through them, and it makes us fly.

First, let us have a look at the components of flow, nicely categorized below by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

1 Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernable).
2 Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
3 A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4 Distorted sense of time - our subjective experience of time is altered.
5 Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
6 Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
7 A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8 The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
Not all of these components are needed for flow to be experienced.

I would like to elaborate on the bullet point number 8, which to me explains why some brilliant artists, having made a genius album, forget the flow in a search of external rewards and end up making a rubbish album following the initial success. Yes, beautiful creatures, they may think of fields of girls/boys chasing them down narrow corridors, but the main focus is the art itself when most careers start. A few buckets full of dollars later and the smell of money, the pressure of a whole society, an ego trip or a possible identification with the mind causes them to chase their own tail instead of feeling the flow. Having said that, we can move forward to illustrate this idea with examples related to our more humble reality, and maybe find out why some of us disconnected from the source and stopped making art.

Desmond Morris, as published in The Biology of Art did a very clever experiment where chimpanzees were given canvas and some paint. They got into the flow making weird paintings, using colours to create effects, completely absorbed. They were truly having fun. After a few weeks Mr. Morris started "rewarding the chimpanzees for producing their paintings. Very soon their work began to degenerate until they produced the bare minimum that would satisfy the experimenter." Mr. Morris managed to get them out of the flow by introducing external rewards, just like schools do to us, just like society, hindering our natural flow of creativity.

Just bear that in mind when you are making art, and suddenly a voice in your head wonders if people are going to like it. That's not the point, really.


Indigobusiness said...

This is so utterly on target it makes me weak in the knees (except that the kid in the cartoon looks suspiciously like a budding musician).

Reminds of what Nick Africano once told me about desperately loving to paint, until he became a famous bigshot.

Paulette said...


He does! That kid will be a hippie trumpet player in New York!!!

Indigobusiness said...

BTW- Blue Man Group has done a PBS special, airing tomorrow night. 8:30pmCST

Maybe there'll be some way for you to watch?

Paulette said...

I don't think so... :-(
Maybe the special will be shown on British Telly in a few month, hopefully... But hey, we've got them here, 5 times a week in central London! Gotta think positively...

Any change someone could record it and post it on youtube?

global domination dot org dot uk said...

don't let money change yah, dee da da da di daah...

Indigobusiness said...

There are websites that stream almost all tv shows. But, they'll probably be doing the things you've seen, anyway.

happyotter said...

Yeah..."Oleaginous" is the word I would use to descrbe your style, Ind.