Does Chaos Breed Creativity?

fabric scraps in yellow, orange and tan

Occasionally, I dump out my fabric scraps on my studio table. These little pieces of colorful fabric, arranged in a heap without preconception, trigger ideas and inspire me to create new art. But how do I get from this chaos of snippets into an organized piece of art? Does the notion “chaos breeds creativity” hold true for me?

While some people can thrive in utter chaos, for me chaos is a form of stress. Chaos, disarray, or any form of mess lead to a sense of disorganization, dismay, and lack of control.

Therefore, I become creative to find ways to overcome the stress. Under these circumstances the motivation behind my creativity is rather unpleasant. So, no, chaos does not breed creativity for me.

However, creativity can be fueled by factors other than chaos. One of them is scarcity. Just consider cooking a meal with only a limited choice of ingredients in the fridge or pantry.

Of course, the outcome of the cooking will differ based on the experience of the chef: Expertise in combining unusual ingredients, expertise in taking advantage of herbs and seasonings besides salt and pepper, expertise in the various ways of preparing a dish like steaming, sauteing, or roasting.

Any set of skills is developed through practice: repeating what we know, experimenting with something new, refining the process and reviewing the result every single time.

The same is true for my art practice: most of the development in my work comes through a steady process which includes the following strategies:

  1. Discipline to show up in my studio every day. If I don’t design or sew, I spend time sketching. Alternatively, I write about the topics that interest me and which I consider incorporating into my visual art later.

  2. Education to understand materials, techniques and elements of design so I can apply them skillfully. Not all knowledge needs to stem from just one medium because we can learn aspects such as color theory or composition through various approaches and then transfer the knowledge to our medium of choice.


  3. Experimentation and exploration to dig deeper within one medium, one idea, one color palette. Of course, there is a time – especially early in the artistic explorations – when giving into the “shiny object syndrome” and jumping from one technique to the next, from one style to the next has value. Apart from breadth, it was depth that allowed me to develop my artistic voice and a cohesive body of work.


  4. Organization to have all required supplies available, to be aware of any timelines, to eliminate wasting resources – and I consider time a resource – or to reduce unnecessary detours.


  5. Goal setting to focus time and energy on a pre-determined objective. I still provide myself ample space for play as a certain level of playfulness and spontaneity is part of creativity. As I work toward my target, I assess my progress regularly. In addition, I evaluate if the parameters required to reach the goal are still valid. This repeated analysis ensures my path and my destination are still aligned.


  6. Definition of Success to avoid frustration. I characterize success – or failure – based on my personal context. When circumstances such as health, commitments, or timelines change then I must re-evaluate the criteria that determine success. Other people’s definition of success cannot, must not apply to me. After all my situation is unique.

These approaches allow me to minimize chaos in my studio and by extension, my life. They help me to remain balanced while ambitious, happy while working hard, and focused while creative.

Chaos can certainly breed creativity, but chaos is not a requirement for creativity. Nor does chaos ensure a sustainable form of creativity, at least not for me.

What is your experience? Does chaos breed creativity for you?