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The Fluidity of Creativity

Exposure, Alexa Meade

{“Exposure” by Alexa Meade, 2009}

What’s so powerful about creativity is the process. The evolution. The exploration and experimentation. The playing, molding, twisting and turning of techniques, tools, ideas, words.

In my forthcoming book about reconnecting to our creativity and living a more playful life, I write about the unique, mesmerizing art of Alexa Meade. Today, Meade paints portraits on people, turning them into 2-D paintings and literal works of art.

But years ago she started her art-making by painting shadows. Then she got the idea to paint shadows on her friend. After she was done, she noticed that her friend became a painting. This inspired her to start experimenting with painting on herself (the above is just one example of her self-portraits).

Transit, 2009, Alexa Meade

{“In Transit” by Alexa Meade, 2009}

She also painted on breakfast foods and other objects. Eventually, she found a model — an older man — who enjoyed getting painted on and didn’t mind going out in public as a painting. So he and Meade went to places like the subway.

Activate, 2002, Alexa Meade

{“Activate” by Alexa Meade, 2012}

Fast forward a few years and Meade began collaborating with Sheila Vand on a series of stunning paintings in a pool of milk. (The above image is one of my favorites. Wow.) Meade talks about her innovative approach to art in this TED talk. On her collaboration with Vand, she said:

I was having so much fun with this process. I was teaching myself how to paint in all these different styles, and I wanted to see what else I could do with it. I came together with a collaborator, Sheila Vand, and we had the idea of creating paintings in a more unusual surface, and that was milk. We got a pool. We filled it with milk. We filled it with Sheila. And I began painting. And the images were always completely unexpected in the end, because I could have a very specific image about how it would turn out, I could paint it to match that, but the moment that Sheila laid back into the milk, everything would change. It was in constant flux, and we had to, rather than fight it, embrace it, see where the milk would take us and compensate to make it even better. Sometimes, when Sheila would lay down in the milk, it would wash all the paint off of her arms, and it might seem a little bit clumsy, but our solution would be, okay, hide your arms. And one time, she got so much milk in her hair that it just smeared all the paint off of her face. All right, well, hide your face. And we ended up with something far more elegant than we could have imagined, even though this is essentially the same solution that a frustrated kid uses when he can’t draw hands, just hiding them in the pockets.

For me Meade’s work is a great reminder that ideas rarely come fully formed. Instead, they show up in bits and pieces as we show up, as we do the work. (As Isabel Allende said, “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”)

As we play and experiment and practice, our ideas transform and blossom. They change shape and color, like paint in a pool of milk.

The creative process is fluid. It evolves from one mess into another into another. This is exciting because you never know where creativity will lead you — from painting shadows on the grass to creating real-life works of art.

This is why it also helps to write down all your ideas — no matter how silly, implausible or “bad” they seem. Because they may lead to an insight down the line. Because they may be step one in a series of windy, interesting steps of a windy, interesting process.

All of our ideas add up. Brick by Brick. They add up to create the whole that is us.

This also applies to other bits and pieces of information — like insights we come across every day. It’s important to jot those down, too. (I keep notebooks for my blogs and book. And I have a handful of “notebooks” in Evernote.) Because everything is important. As Art Markman writes in this Fast Company piece:

As a college professor, my least favorite question asked by students is: “Will this be on the exam?” The answer to that question is always: “Yes, but it may not be my exam.” That is because you never know what the source of a great idea is going to be. The stories behind creative ideas are fascinating to read, but they are only clear in retrospect.

For example, James Dyson’s inspiration for the bagless vacuum cleaner came from his knowledge of the industrial cyclones used to clear the air in sawmills. When Dyson’s curiosity led him to learn about sawmills, he could not have known that knowledge would form the basis of a multimillion dollar company.

A key to creativity is to pursue knowledge without a sense of whether it will be relevant in the future. Too often, people assume that they can judge in advance what they need to understand and what they do not. Instead, creative people build up their knowledge base so that they will be ready for the opportunities that come later.

The creative process is an adventure (which is what often makes it so intimidating, exhausting and exhilarating). It’s an adventure with unexpected turns. Surprising sights, scents and sounds. Each endlessly fascinating and revealing.

The Fluidity of Creativity

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2015). The Fluidity of Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 22 Apr 2015
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