From Dilbert by Scott Adams

One of the most basic elements in creative expression is ideas – interesting, stimulating, boring, trivial, absurd, impractical, useless, offensive – all sorts of ideas.

But just labeling or categorizing is a kind of censorship – especially if we do it too early on, before allowing them to percolate both consciously and unconsciously.

The attitudes we have about our creative ideas and projects can have a huge impact on what we actually invest energy in – or how much.

If we think a project is “only personal” or “not commercial,” we may not invest much into developing it, or it may not reach as large an audience it could if we were more passionate about it.

Movies seem more and more to be “manufactured” based on commercial and committee decisions that stifle individual creative input.

Writer and director Frank Pierson (former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) once commented, “The danger of censorship in the United States is less from business or the religious right or the self-righteous left than from the self-censorship of artists themselves, who simply give up.

“If we can’t see a way to get our story told, what is the point of trying? I wonder how many fine, inspiring ideas are strangled in the womb of the imagination because there’s no way past the gates of commerce.”

[LA Times May 26, 2003 – quoted in Utne, Sep/Oct 2003]

Censoring – both internal and external – is discussed by Eric Maisel, PhD in his article Are You Censoring Yourself?, in which he says, “Most of us would be quick to say that we are free to think just about anything and to express ourselves in any way we see fit.

“In reality, artists do a lot of measuring, somewhere just out of conscious awareness, about what is safe or seemly to reveal and what is unsafe or unseemly.

“One aspect of this self-censorship is the way we bite our tongue at our day job and, in a corollary safety measure, skip making art that reveals what our corporation, institution, or agency is up to.”

Concrete examples of self-censoring

Maisel adds, “They decide to set their novel in a foreign country because they do not feel safe talking about the evildoers in their own hometown.

“They paint lively abstractions or cheerful landscapes because they fear what Goya-esque horrors might escape from their brush in a narrative painting.”

He thinks these self-restrictions are about “the most primitive and important of motives, our personal safety and survival.”

Censoring the unconscious is perhaps the most subtle and profound form.

In the article The Psychotic Imagination, author Dharmavidya David Brazier declares we all have reason to “want to keep some things out of consciousness. In order to achieve this we operate a kind of self-censorship.

“However, the situation is doubly complicated because clearly enough we must not only deceive ourselves about the mental contents we do not wish to acknowledge, we must also deceive ourselves about the fact that we are deceiving ourselves. The censorship is therefore operated unconsciously and takes the form of ‘defense mechanisms.'”

Professor of neuroesthetics Semir Zeki also argues that “one of the dangers that limits creativity is self-censorship. Any creative person, whether in art or literature or music or theatre, who censors what they want to say or depict because of social disapproval or prohibition, or because of a self-imposed, even unconscious, censorship, will find it difficult to produce a work of art of the highest quality.”

He speculates that self-censorship may involve “activity in the frontal lobes of the brain.”

[From my post Creative excellence, censorship and frontal lobes.]

We may not exactly overcome self-censoring, but we can become more aware of how much it is affecting our creative exploration and expression.