Creativity: It's Not Flow
Or rather, it's not the psychological flow that matters.
Creativity is a team sport that is far too often made hyper-personal & even purely psychological. It is a team sport because being alive is a collaborative event – even in its seemingly most individual moments. We are always in & of a dynamic collaboration between environments, tools, habits, formed bodies, others & infrastructures, – moving in a mutually co-creative co-shaping dynamic.This is a far more a distributed, self-organizing, emergent condition than it is one driven by the internalized individualized subject of psychology.
As a highly networked system feedbacking into itself – it has an emergent agency that can supersede the agency of the parts. In a real sense we don’t notice this because it just works (things flow).
What of creativity? Outside of any stable set of dynamic processes which acts like a ‘closed’ system there will be elements that play a significant role in determining the system— even controlling the system, but are themselves unchanged by the system — these are called “feedforward” elements. The term feedforward signifies this pushing of a system from the outside in a direction — toward a different or new state.
Feedforward is a critical aspect of creative processes: consider the development of a coherent novel process that separates itself enough from the conditions that gave rise to it. It has developed some limited autonomy, & agency – such that it has self-organizing and self-sustaining abilities – a type of autopoiesis (it’s own flow). This more-than-human process is not simply a budding off that becomes independent & exists in parallel to the dominant process. This “epicycle" — a process cycle that has come to stand outside of the major cycle “can function as if they were controlling, feedforward elements, altering & determining the system from which they arose with little change to themselves.” (Gary Tomlinson)
Flow, & “flow states” is highly relevant to the study/practice of activities such as climbing, running, playing music, etc. where one becomes so immersed in the practice that things just seem to happen – here it is correct to talk about a person being in a “flow state”. In some cases this is a requirement of the task – you cannot successfully ski down a highly technical & highly dangerous couloir if you are not in this state of flow. Similarly you cannot play a complex violin concerto outside of a flow state. But conflating this psychological state with the ecosystemic condition in a creative practice when novelty gains an agency in a feedforward manner is a serious category error. Creative processes are types of feedforward processes – what Brian Massumi calls “the event of self-futuring serially repeating itself”. For creativity, we are experimenting with the wrong spaces of flow when we take this to be about us and our felt experience.