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Creative Sabotage

Sometimes our humanity momentarily makes sense in suggestion and in simplicity. I made this piece, Self-Infliction, in 2011, a double-ended power cord noose, which addresses the power struggle with the self. This piece makes me consider how when we set traps for others we are really only trapping ourself. So then, when we decide to lay traps for others we are really performing to the containment of the self, also known as self sabotage.

Self sabotage is a concept that surfaces in opposition to our creative self. Sabotage grows out or our fear of rejection. Sometimes as creatives we are fearful of not meeting the expectations of others. More frequently, however, we are participating in self-destructive behaviors that prevent us from achieving our own creative potential. The author of the book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield, talks about the concept of resistance as the main opponent of creativity. Plus, the title of the book refers to the war of art and that manifest in inner battles!

If you have ever seriously embarked on a creative task, chances are you have engaged this inner opposition to resist action, exploration, and resolution. You see, our resistance is tricky. Resistance fools us into doing less and allows us to create excuse.

Did you see what I just typed: create excuse? So here is my question for you, do you create in performance to fear or do you create despite fear? You see, as humans we are consistently in battle with ourselves to be healthy in our creative practice. And since creativity involves practice like anything else in life we want to improve, let's look at how we are BEING creative and how through reflection and intention we can create intentional growth!

Here is a rubric that I compiled in response to a student question, "How can you measure creativity?" I invite you to reflect on your creative being, to practice self discipline, and to challenge your creative growth.


Creative Practice Inventory by Heather Nameth Bren

Have you ever thought about how doing creative work and being creative are two distinct concepts? Everyone is creative but not everyone is good at being creative. The problem is that we instinctually use our creativity in unhealthy ways to compensate, avoid, and deny ourselves or others. The good news is that being a healthy holistic creative is attainable but takes practice, patience and perseverance. Let’s start with a personal inventory of the state of our creative practice. Taking this inventory frequently will track your progress and resistance with creativity.

Before diving in, let's take a look at a framework for understanding this tool of self-reflection. Creativity encompasses all areas of our being. The six main categories of creative practice include:

  1. Intellectual Skills

  2. Preparation & Knowledge

  3. Critical Thinking

  4. Character

  5. Motivation

  6. Research

Each of these categories involve sub categories listed as "attributes" below. From there, select a descriptor from the further broken down categories "Using Attribute Effectively," "Developing Attribute," and, "Emerging Attribute" to consider the quality of your creative being.


Intellectual Skills:

Three essential attributes include:

  1. Conventional and non-conventional modes of thinking

  2. In-depth analysis

  3. Recognizes ideas worthy of pursuit

Using Attribute Effectively

  1. Triadic thinking (The ability to see what connects things or reconciles contradictory positions), and Dyadic thinking modes (The ability to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time. The ability to see what’s “right and wrong” about both sides of an argument

  2. Analysis through multiple modes of thought (Verbal -- Non-verbal, Analytic -- Synthetic, Parts -- Whole, Logical -- Intuitive, Sequential -- Random, Rational -- Emotional, Objective -- Subjective, Digital --Analogue, Propositional – Imaginative, Linear--Holistic, Factual -- Abstract)

  3. Results in unique idea, question, format, process, product to create new knowledge or knowledge that crosses boundaries

Developing Attribute

  1. Developing sensitivity to diverse modes of thinking and knowing

  2. Experiments with creating a unique idea, question, format, process, product

  3. Results in ideas, questions, formats, processes or products that exist within the boundaries of the guidelines for the assignment

Emerging Attribute

  1. Singularity in Left or Right brain skills: mono thinking (I have a thought and that is all that exists), null thinking (external stimuli cause a reflex action)

  2. Reformulates an analysis through a collection of available solutions

  3. Difficulty identifying / choosing concepts that lead to growth and learning


Preparation & Knowledge Three essential attributes include:

  1. Gains understanding of the subject and process

  2. Effectively interprets information

  3. Innovation and Contradiction

Using Attribute Effectively

  1. Self-motivated curiosity drives learning and anticipates process

  2. Understanding & articulation with sensitivity and subtle nuance

  3. Integrates alternative, divergent, or contradictory perspectives

Developing Attribute

  1. Limited curiosity in subject or in process; curiosity ends with the project

  2. Basic insight is understood and effectively communicated

  3. Recognizes the value of alternative, divergent, or contradictory perspectives

Emerging Attribute

  1. Dysfunctional curiosity and knowledge due to lack of personal responsibility or fear of thinking

  2. Restates obvious, lacks opinion

  3. Dismissively acknowledges alternative, divergent, or contradictory perspectives


Critical Thinking: Three essential attributes include:

  • Recognizes important questions & topics

  • Self Reflection & Honesty

  • Questions and analyzes assumptions

Using Attribute Effectively

  1. Formulates questions that lead to growth through meaningful conceptual analysis

  2. Discomfort & awareness of self & honesty is understood as essential

  3. Healthy skepticism explores diversity in technical & conceptual potential; questions demonstrate abstract thinking

Developing Attribute

  1. Formulates questions that focus on potential

  2. Awareness of self is occasional acknowledged

  3. Questions demonstrate technical proficiency and vocabulary, but lack deeper understanding and connection to the greater world

Emerging Attribute

  1. Formulates questions that focus on limitations

  2. Self-awareness is limited; victim to circumstances

  3. Questions reveal limited inquiry and/or lack of bias-awareness


Character FIVE essential attributes include:

  1. Works to overcome obstacles

  2. Tolerates ambiguity

  3. Takes responsibility for ups and downs in process

  4. Integrates failure

  5. Flexible commitment

Using Attribute Effectively

  1. Understands that consistency, obstacles and anxiety, are essential to the learning process and are explored

  2. Despite proof, faithful belief

  3. Integrates the ups and downs of the process as advantageous

  4. Challenge and error-centric practice leads to innovation, growth, and wisdom.

  5. Incorporates flexibility in the service of the concept and process; the final product is unknown while the initial concept is understood as a rough starting point of conceptual and material play and potential

Developing Attribute

  1. Confronts obstacles with persistence and some regularity in rigor

  2. Tolerates ambiguity doubtfully

  3. Takes personal responsibility for successful parts of the process while shy-away from perceived short comings

  4. Failure is endured with determination and persistence but failure is not understood as part of the normal process

  5. Experimentation with the growth and development of initial concept; initial concept and final product reveal committed development

Emerging Attribute

  1. Resists obstacles, quitting when things don’t work out; lacking commitment and consistency.

  2. Doubt dominates process and attempt; resistance to the unknown

  3. Is easily defeated by rigor & process and blames others for lack of success

  4. Error-phobic practice that focuses on success and/or perfection (limiting action)

  5. Unwilling to grow of change idea; initial concept and final product are closely similar


Motivation Three essential attributes include:

  1. Focus on purpose rather than grade

  2. Demonstrates interest in the project/process & develops a personal angle for the project

  3. Works to present conclusions and ideas

Using Attribute Effectively

  1. The conceptual objectives are thoroughly explored without the bondage of requirements

  2. Unique and personal solutions are discovered through self-motivated interest in the project/process, rigor and consistency

  3. Finishing, follow through, display and conversation demonstrate integrity and personal investment. Display and conversation successfully honor the larger concept.

  1. Developing Attribute

  2. High grades are pursued and conceptual considerations are experimental.

  3. Creative projects that are interesting to the student reveal personal solutions, but perceived “boring” projects lack personal engagement

  4. Presentation demonstrates sensitivity to materials and it display but lacks the ability to “sell” the idea

Emerging Attribute

  1. Performing to stress to achieve a high score or grade misinterprets objectives.

  2. Interest and personal investment into concepts and process is limited to personal benefit/advantage

  3. Finishing, follow-through, display and conversation revealed a lack effort or care.


Research Three essential attributes include:

  1. Employs a variety of sources

  2. Collaborates, discusses ideas

  3. Integrates feedback

Using Attribute Effectively

  1. The diversity of cross-disciplinary resources generates unique perspectives and innovation.

  2. Collaboration is understood as an essential aspect of humanity and creativity. Concepts and processes are discussed deeply for greater openness and understanding.

  3. Feedback is integrated through multiple modes: classroom critique conversation, journaling, diverse perspectives; all feedback is good feedback even if it’s bad feedback!

Developing Attribute

  1. Research is present but is limited to related/ obvious subject matter topics.

  2. Collaboration and conversation is pursued but is limited by willingness and resistance.

  3. Feedback is heard as “good” or “bad” limiting listening skills and ultimately prevent deep exploration, experimentation, and growth.

Emerging Attribute

  1. Resources explored are limited, revealing minimal engagement

  2. Collaboration and discussing ideas for the sake of improvement is timid or nonexistent due to fear or lack of confidence.

  3. Feedback loop is inhibited due to emotional barriers, getting hung up on a specific detail, defending decisions rather than hearing opinions, and/or poor communication skills and misunderstanding.


As an exercise in inquiry, identify your areas of strength and weakness. After writing your specific dealings with creative practice, try to identify small steps to strategize improvement in your creative practice.

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