Have you ever been so immersed in a task that you lost track of time or your surroundings? You may have unknowingly been in a flow state, explained fully in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Szentmihalyi: “The flow experience is typically described as involving a sense of control – or, more precisely, as lacking the sense of worry about loosing control that is typical in many situations of normal life.” In order for flow to take place, you need to be focused on a task that isn’t too hard you can’t ever achieve in, nor too easy that there’s no challenge. Effort has to take place in order for flow to occur. “Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.” If a task is too easy, long term it won’t provide you with enough stimulus to continue so the challenge becomes how can you increase the difficulty of a task as your confidence and skills improve?
But how can flow help with an art-making practice? Full immersion into a task quietens the mind’s chatter – negative thoughts or unhelpful comments – that can railroad you if you pay them too much attention. Szentmihalyi explains “In normal life, we keep interrupting what we do with doubts and questions. “Why am I doing this? Should I perhaps be doing something else?” Repeatedly we question the necessity of our actions, and evaluate critically the reasons for carrying them out. But in flow there is no need to reflect, because action carries us forward as if by magic.”
The feeling of being in flow is very rewarding and brings a sense of satisfaction about your work. If “The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing”, then giving yourself the space and time to make art, you increase the chances of experiencing the benefits of flow.