creative tension


Though I often use a humorous tone in these posts and try to keep things funny (and punny), I want to take the time to look at the other, more difficult, side. You see, creativity ain't all sunshine and double rainbows. When it comes down to it, being a creative doesn’t mean life is all fun and games. It’s a struggle, a fight. There are more than a few reasons for this.

To be creative is to go against the flow, to depart from normal. Whenever you do this, you will encounter resistance, in some form or another—it may be your own inner desire to play it safe, or pressure from the community at large. A friend of mine, whose husband created and drives a Star Wars themed art car, recounted to me how some people go out of their way to insult him simply because of his car. I find it strange, but some people are highly offended by creativity. Obviously, certain expressions of creativity get people riled up (and often are intended to), but I also think there are people who find the creative very discomforting. Yet, despite all the jeers and mockery, I also know that Star Wars car has earned even more positive comments and attention. Though the negative voices shout louder, I believe the positive ones last longer.

Like all things, creativity has a price. That’s not to say you can’t be creative any time of day, but as you pursue your most meaningful creative goals, you will discover a cost. This is natural: anything of value requires value to bring it forth. It may be time, money, energy, sleep, relationships, etc. A coworker recently talked with me about how difficult it was for him to live in LA and how much he’d given up to get a job in the animation industry. At one point, he’d lost 3 jobs in a month and had serious expenses stacking up. But he also told me something amazing, the very day he was about to pack it up, head out of town and go back home, he got the job offer he’d been hoping for. He got to stay and start doing the work he’d dreamed of doing.

I think about some famous creatives like Edgar Allan Poe or Vincent van Gogh who lived very difficult lives yet produced timeless works. Perhaps their creative genius is not just in spite of, but even a result of their circumstances. Yes, creativity costs, but the greater the cost, the greater the final product.

Another hard truth about being creative is it often does not fulfill our expectations. People don’t react the way we hope they will or we may not achieve the results desired from our creative efforts. After I launched this website, I felt a certain gloom from not getting the response I’d hoped for. That’s not to say I didn’t get a good response, it just didn’t match my expectations. I quickly began to doubt my efforts, why had I even started this thing anyways? But, the amazing thing is every time I’ve felt that way, someone comes along and gives me a compliment to keep me going. I’ve always found expectations need adjusting and encouragement keeps us going.

Over the years (and even more lately) I’ve heard and seen a lot of great creative work from African Americans, many who have suffered racial injustice. Be it rap, poetry, literature or visual arts, I am often moved and inspired by how they’ve taken deep struggles along with raw, painful feelings and made something beautiful out of them. They bring light and understanding to something personal and real. Like a flower after a storm, creativity can grow out of pain. As I've seen, it can also lead to healing.

To be a creative is  to struggle, but it can also give you a voice, it can allow you to sing in a way nothing else can. Don’t, even for a moment, believe it isn’t worth your efforts.


Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

tension & balance

You’ve probably heard the term "creative tension" before, but what does it really mean? In an article ⁠1 on the subject, Cath Duncan, noting many authors, describes creative tension in these words: 

“Creative tension is essentially a structure that helps to facilitate creativity and change” 


“Creative tension is based on an understanding of how our minds control the management of our attention, energy, and creativity, and then using that understanding to create a structure that creates an energy that seeks to be resolved.” 

If the second part is a little confusing (I’ll admit, it was to me), here is a simpler description of what she’s getting at: creative tension happens when there is a difference between the thing you want (vision) and where you are now (reality). The bigger the gap between those two, the greater the tension.

I think it’s a great working example, but I’d simplify it further: creative tension builds when you embrace the challenge of creativity, when you do something different from the norm. The more different your creative undertaking, the more tension exists.

The phrase “go against the flow” describes it well: think of a fish not only swimming against the movement of water, but also against all the other fish who are following the water’s course. That little guy (or girl, I can never tell with fish) is bound to get bumped up and knocked around by all the other fish. This is how tension can feel and it’s a big reason why many choose to forgo creative living and instead just move with the pulls of tide and crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, tension is not a bad thing, nor is conformity wrong in itself, but it can lead to some terrible stuff (Holocaust, anyone?). Tension is necessary: it’s what holds up bridges, allows us to make music on pianos, guitars and drums, and even permits athletes to pull off some remarkable feats. Tension also exists on an atomic and molecular level in the form of potential energy (potential, that’s another source of tension: when you aren’t yet what you could be). Tension is all around us and it’s not just necessary, it’s useful. If tension is so important, why do we resist it?

Tension is itself resistance and the more there is, the harder it becomes to maintain. This is why we need balance—an ability to hold two different things in tension. Balance is healthy. After all, why do we call people with psychological problems unbalanced?

There is a balance between the left and right sides of our brain, between our rational, logical, structured side and our irrational, emotional, creative side. Both are important and necessary, they work with and in contrast to one another. As with anything in balance, there is a constant state of push and pull.

Let me be frank (no, silly, it’s not my name), we can’t go hog-wild with creativity, because if we did, our lives would quickly devolve into a chaotic mess. If you did everything creatively, you would not only be mentally exhausted from constantly having to invent new methods, you’d also be a total weirdo. Much of our lives involve doing very regular things and I think that's alright. It’s better to eat your food like a normal person and not by shoveling it down the hatch via keyboard while hanging upside-down wearing a canary suit.

Yes, even the most creative person must use some level of restraint; like it or not, they need some normalcy in their life. But we must not neglect creativity (let it never be so), in which case we live bland, unfulfilled lives rife with growing problems because we are incapable of discovering new solutions.

We must strike a balance, we must discover a healthy level of creative living. This will look different for every person. The tendency is to take the path of least resistance, to be unbalanced in favor of normative living (the safer way) and it’s high time we tip the scales back.


Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert


Hey Creatives, how do you deal with creative tension? Let us know in the comments below.