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Ambiguity, Creative Process, and a Little Black Box

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Ambiguity, Creative Process, and a Little Black Box

By: Rick Tija

The Creative Process is a tricky one, one with multiple facets, personal approaches, and sometimes undefinable methods. Some debate as to whether or not there really is a process at all.

There is the hyper clear and straight-up first degree storytelling, and there is the completely abstract, the avant-garde, the surreal. There are audience members who, when faced with abstraction, will create clarity for themselves in order to understand it, but there are also those who will not.

It is true that people need something concrete to latch onto - something common, something to give them a bit of comfort because it's familiar and easy to understand.

At the same time, they want to be emotionally touched, which is an ambiguous task. This makes art powerful: an ambiguity of emotion that we are not too sure what to do with but needs to be digested, felt, and re-felt over and over again. We may endlessly search for what that feeling is, but truthfully, we don't actually want to know what it is-- we just want to experience it.

I have, over many years, somewhat perfected the art of taking my feelings, placing them into an internal little black "box" and putting them aside where they can do me no harm. It is a survival mechanism that has allowed me to never take anything personally and to be able to remain as objective as possible when I need to be. It has been an indispensable tool that has helped me accomplish a great many things in a great many difficult situations. I am glad to have developed this skill, and I am very, very good at it.

But it has its disadvantages. Sometimes we just need to feel - no matter how much it can hurt, we need to feel strong emotions in order to feel alive.

Recently, a personal event has put me back in touch with that feeling, along with the marvel (for lack of a better word) that comes with the intense onslaught of emotion. I've missed that - I had almost forgotten how it feels.


But I still don't really know exactly what it is, just that it is intense. The feeling is ambiguous. But it's also the kind of ambiguity that tends to keep us going.

Because in fact, we don't really want to know everything, and certainly not about people. We all need our secrets, and what is more, we need for others to keep theirs.

In short - too much clarity is uninteresting and not enough clarity is confusing. The reality is that our lives gravitate somewhere in between, where we will always have some sliver of emotional doubt --just enough emotional ambiguity to keep us alive inside.

Humans are intellectual, emotional, and physical on a constant basis. The three aspects are interconnected, and we rarely live more than a fleeting instant in any one of those before jumping to the next. So if we create art to touch people, the most effective thing would be to use all three. This is very difficult to do.

But as creators, if we can at least somewhat balance the clear and understandable with the ambiguity of emotion, then we will have touched on two out of three, which is not bad: just enough clarity for a necessary level of understanding, and just enough emotional ambiguity to keep us from wanting to let it all go.

Just enough. Just enough to stave off my little black box.

Rick Tjia



Twitter: @ricktjia

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