The Crucible of the Creative Mind

I am not entirely sure when my brain updated its association of creativity with chaos to something more nuanced and approximating reality, but at least in my conscious mind it cannot have been very long ago. After all, we are only too familiar with the chaotic nature of the creative process—thoughts flit through the mind and ideas collide as something new is born unexpectedly. And this experience must be universal as we never fault anyone for being unable to explain how inspiration struck. In the creative fire, it seems, ideas meld in inexplicable ways, and we simply acknowledge it.

But that is only one half of the equation. The other is that the means of expressing creativity usefully in the real world is an extremely grueling task. Having great big ideas is only the beginning of a long and arduous journey. This is perhaps something I have only consciously realized since the time I became a graduate student. And this journey is one of reification, one of narrowing a vast tree of possibilities into a single concrete entity that one can point to and say, “Here–this is the outcome of my creativity”. And for the most part, we don’t have the capacity to endure the trying nature of this journey. The hell it drives us through is too hot to bear.

So what does all that have to do with the crucible of the creative mind, you ask? Well the chaotic nature of the creative process, and the struggle to express it usefully are captured perfectly by this metaphor aren’t they? Recall that a crucible is a word with two meanings:

  • a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures: the crucible tipped and the mold filled with liquid metal.
  • a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new: their relationship was forged in the crucible of war.

I think that’s really neat. I was playing around with the title phrase in my head, I don’t remember for what reason, and I stumbled on this metaphor which perfectly summed up the predicament that I always seemed to have–more creative chaos and less creative order!

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