My son and I just had a conversation about this the other day. He's in the "this is useless; when will I ever use this?" phase. I told him it's a little like energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. He has to gather energy from other sources in order to make his own spark. And he'll never know what combination of energy sources will make that spark until the moment it happens.
The more energy gathering he does, the more potential creative energy he has.
Another day we were driving to the swimming pool for practice. This son, who is always coming up with fantastical solutions to everyday problems, said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could earth-bend a bridge all the way to the swimming pool?”
I countered, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could bend the earth so that wherever we wanted to be was suddenly just a step away?”
Let’s talk about the word fantastical, shall we? It means “conceived by an unrestrained imagination.” The word I want to focus on is “unrestrained.”
God is the ultimate Creator. He created staggering vastness (in its extent, proportions, quantity, and intensity). He created staggering minute-ness. He created staggering beauty in material, texture, form, color, and pattern. He created staggering diversity and variety.
Sheer excess, friends. There is nothing practical about a thousand of varieties of fruit.
Every day, by the witness of His own creation, I learn that God delights in creating.
But God also created constraints.
Physical law. Natural law. Moral law. Chronological time. Biological systems.
God is a God of cosmos (form and harmony), not a God of chaos.
The greatest creativity I’ve witnessed has not occured in unrestrained environments.
Anyone can plink random notes on a piano and call it a song. But if the musician uses his imagination within the constraints of rhythm and harmony and tempo and dynamics, he achieves a certain masterful creativity.
In fact, the greater the constraints, the greater the creativity.
That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
In fantasy writing, authors who are able to conceive of consistent constraints for their fantasy world and plot constraints for their characters are able to create a more masterful story.
I would not hesitate to say that creating beauty within constraints and overcoming restraints to solve problems show a higher degree of creativity.
The greater number of constraints (either within a form or as problems to overcome) or the greater the complexity that is brought into harmony, the greater the creative skill.
In many ways, we fight against this as a culture. We don’t like constraints. My teenage son doesn’t like constraints. I don’t like constraints. Constraints aren’t fair. Constraints aren’t fun. Constraints aren’t easy. Society should have solved all our problems for us by now.
But, made in the image of God, we are still hard-wired to know, deep inside, that constraints are necessary. We are still hard-wired to need constraints to grow in character, in skill, and in creativity. We are still hard-wired to value those traits when we see them in others. Do you know how I know this?
Do you want to watch a movie about a character who has nothing to overcome? When someone is given everything they need or want without restraint, are strong character, skills, and creativity likely to follow? Are a man’s accomplishments worthy of praise if he puts no effort into them? Don’t we love an underdog story?!
Skillful creativity is not unrestrained imagination.
Skillful creativity is bringing chaos into harmony or form.
Skillful creativity is perseverance in adversity.
Skillful creativity is acknowledging restraints and solving problems in spite of them.
Why do I want my boys to read books like Wonder, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, A Long Walk to Water, and The Boys in the Boat? Because these are characters [particular (historical) and universal (fiction)] who are faced with constraints, great constraints; they work within their limitations to do incredible things, they show astounding perseverance in the face of adversity, and they grow in character as a result.
Ask kids, ask yourself: what constraints (and how many) did each of the people in the following videos face? Did working within these constraints require a higher degree of character, skills, and/or creativity for the people who solved them? Would their creativity have been better served without constraints?