Yin and Yang: Lessons of Creativity

The lessons of creativity rest in ancient wisdom. 

For the Taoists, the divine way is the border of Yin and Yang. One foot in Yin — orde and the other in Yang — chaos.

Each contains, and is contained within, the other. This divine way leads towards creativity. Each contains, and is contained within, the other.

Great art begins with a creative calling. Creative action is birthed in the imagination, a place of chaos and confusion. Imagination works in abstract images, not concrete words. Great art walks the line between imagination and rationality. It contains more wisdom than we can possibly articulate.

Great artists are the antenna of society. They articulate the unknown. They reveal what we’re blind to. That’s why art makes you see things in a new way.

Great art emerges before we can articulate it. It’s beyond description. My favorite example is the Alhambra, constructed in the 14th century. In its architecture, we see the symmetries of the universe — years before we had the mathematical language to describe it.

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

Dreams are similar. Dreams are the birthplace of thought. Dreams are the mind trying to comprehend our existence. Dreams sacrifice coherence for completeness; waking thought sacrifices completeness for coherence.

We must balance creation and consumption. Oscillating between them gives life meaning and flavor. Through creation, we appreciate consumption; through consumption, we appreciate creation. Creation and consumption fuel each other. Together, they point us towards an ideal. 

Practitioners see their craft in nuanced, sophisticated ways. Practitioners live at the frontier.

  1. Look at a painting with an artist — they see differently.
  2. Listen to music with a musician — they hear differently.
  3. Learn about a book with a writer — they read differently. 

Flow states are the holy grail of productivity. To achieve flow, we need a proper skill-challenge ratio.

Skill: Yin (Order)

Challenge: Yang (Chaos)

We do best when we’re pursuing goals that are a little bit tougher than what we can easily accomplish.

Action and perception require a goal. Through that goal, we orient ourselves — towards quality. We only focus on a small fraction of what we see. We see the world through the lens of ever-evolving goals. 

All living systems do this. By capturing and storing information, they move towards “negative entropy.” They use information to harvest energy and evade equilibrium. Even simple bacteria move with “purpose” toward sources of heat and nutrition. Likewise, plants move towards light: incredible.

Creators are seized by their interests.

Our interests are a compass that help us navigate the world. It evolved to help humans move through uncertain environments.

Great art expresses truth implicitly. It’s driven by unconscious intuition. We all contain wisdom deeper than rationality.

Dedication begins with doubt. To quote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in.”

Guaranteed outcomes yield no new knowledge. Creative excellence begins with a tolerance of uncertainty.

Great ideas pre-exist in the abstract. Creativity always comes as a surprise. It’s defined by its unexpected character. Creativity is what you don’t expect. It’s concrete order emerging out of abstract chaos.

The seeds of creativity are found at the frontier of Yin and Yang. 

Between order and chaos; between known and unknown; between certainty and uncertainty. Beyond that, The Way cannot be described.