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Archimedes by Domenico Fetti (1620)

We are at our creative best when completely absorbed in what we are doing. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The way to get creative projects rolling is to get enthusiastic about them. We must keep thinking about what we propose to do long enough for the priming effect of absorption to begin drawing forth the relevant ideas and information from our inner and outer lives. Isaac Newton believed that to solve a problem required “thinking on it continually.”

By continually thinking about our project, we get into the creative mood specific to that project. A cocoon or atmosphere of feeling surrounds what we are doing. We have enveloped ourselves in a creative possibility cloud. As our mood-focussed attention gathers the relevant ideas, images, and bits of information around the emotional nucleus, the proposed project will take shape and the momentum will steadily increase. American sculptor Louise Nevelson said of the artist’s work, “It absorbs you totally, and you absorb it totally, everything must fall by the wayside by comparison.”

The ability to become deeply absorbed in a creative project is itself a talent. Existential psychologist Rollo May claims that absorption – being caught up or wholly involved in a work – is the hallmark of the artist. Characterizing the ability is a cultivated sensitivity to subtle feelings and finer shades of meaning and a developed skill in deploying the various mental and emotional resources at the creator’s disposal. In other words, we master absorption by deliberate practice while paying attention to what works. The English painter William Hogarth, like Thomas Edison, insisted, “Genius is nothing but labour and diligence.”

English historian Edward Gibbon has branded solitude as “the school of genius” because it facilitates absorption. The engrossed state of mind is one of the essential elements in the development of a creator’s unique vision and the bedrock necessity for steady production. Johann Sebastian Bach said, “Ceaseless work…analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction; that is my secret.”

This business of sticking to it is vital. We cannot allow either personal or professional crises to break our absorption. We must pay close attention to where we expend our energies. Sometimes, it is not immediately apparent just what it is that has engaged our absorption. Especially for the more experienced creator, where absorption has become second nature, the process is not always conscious.

The need to maintain absorption in the face of life’s constant demands means creativity is a juggling act. The balls are time, attention, and energy. Moreover, creators must develop a strong emotional link to what we are doing while at the same time remaining as objective about the work as possible. Objectivity enables the critical eye without which we have no hope of assessing the true value of what we have done.

If you desire to become a creator of some kind, find your area of greatest interest, scare up an idea for a project, and get started by practicing the fine art of absorption.

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