Gustave Courbet, The Desperate Man. 1843–45. Wikimedia Commons.
“Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.”
Having chaotic and disorientated feelings is not easy; these can cause panic and desperation. Sometimes, things do seem to fall apart.
As we all know too well at this time, life throws us so many curveballs, in the form of illness, loss, pandemics and wars.
It seems almost impossible to find anything good in these dreadful and tragic experiences.
Yet we may still discover something, even just a little ray of light, amongst the destruction…….
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:A Ukrainian pianist has been filmed playing a final rendition of Chopin in the ruins of her house after it was badly damaged by Russian shelling. In a video recorded by her daughter, Iryna Manyukina is seen playing the piano in their home in Bila Tserkva, some 80 kilometers from Kyiv.
- Chaos, Beauty And Creativity.
“Creativity happens in the transition between order and chaos.”
Chaos may feel as if the world around us, and perhaps within, is totally disordered, wild and out of control, hopeless, utterly disorientating.
In spite of all this, there is sometimes a strange and haunting beauty in all the chaos that surrounds us. How can we understand this paradox?
Chaos can contain both pandemonium and splendour, destruction and productivity. Chaos theory helps to explain this dichotomy.
- Chaos Theory: “Order In Chaos.”
“Chaos theory simply suggests that what appears to most people as chaos is not really chaotic, but a series of different types of orders with which the human mind has not yet become familiar.”
Kevin Dooley. Light Chaos. Or Chaos Light? Flickr.
“In chaos, there is fertility.”
Chaos theory reveals to us that, even when we feel totally at sea, pressurised and overwhelmed, we need to try to maintain an awareness of the fact that, amidst all the pandemonium, there are some systems and a certain order.
Order In Chaos. Magnus Wenninger. Wikimedia Commons.
“Chaos theory states that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, *fractals, and self-organization.”
“Great leaders know that under the turmoil of chaos and change, there is a beauty of patterns and designs.”
- Uncertainty And Unpredictability: The Randomness Of Life.
Life is unpredictable, and chaos theory emphasises this fact; although there are patterns and connections, we cannot foretell how the initial conditions of a system will each be affected by different variables.
The smallest change can affect the whole system, in time.
For example, weather forecasting can usually be fairly accurate in the short term, but, as more and more factors affect it over time, we cannot predict how the weather system will change in the future.
Butterfly. Andy Warhol. Wikioo.
“Sensitivity to initial conditions is popularly known as the “butterfly effect”, so-called because of the title of a paper given by Edward Lorenz in 1972…………entitled ‘ Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?’
The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events that prevents the predictability of large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the overall system could have been vastly different.”
Edvard Munch. Gamblers in Monte Carlo. Wikimedia Commons.
“Life is a gamble, at terrible odds – if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it.”
“The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor favor to those of skill, but time and chance happen to them all. An essential part of rationality is dealing with randomness in our lives and uncertainty in our knowledge.”
Untitled. Zdislav Beksinski. Wikioo
“[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”
- Chaos And Creativity.
Chaos.The Creation. Ivan Aivazovsky. Wikioo.
“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”
The chaos out of which ‘invention’ is born often reflects the creator’s internal world, their own chaotic inner landscape.
In many ways, we need to celebrate chaos- inner and outer. Without it, there is no doubt that the world would be far less interesting.
H. Th. Wijdeveld. ‘Chaos and Order, 1917-1922. Wikimedia Commons.
“In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.”
Whilst chaos can be extremely destructive, it may, as Winterson suggests, offer us a fresh opportunity to create, rebuild and rediscover.
A little like after a forest fire, new green shoots can grow from destruction.
Edward Robert Hughes – Night with her Train of Stars
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
It is not easy to withstand chaos and wait and hope for something creative to arise from it. This takes courage and the ability to think constructively and clearly.
Einstein knew that “Order is needed by the ignorant but it takes a genius to master chaos.”
We all need to allow a degree of chaos in terms of our ideas and our ways of thinking.
Without such chaos, there would be no starting point, nothing to grapple with in order to achieve some kind of harmony and order.
“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.”
Out of an apparent jumble of ideas and thoughts can emerge something truly original and powerful.
In fact, without this initial chaos, creativity may not be possible. In all that mess of ideas, there will be patterns, waiting to be assembled.
“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”
“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.”
Somehow, chaotic situations, whether real or imaginary, are also stimulating in terms of the choice of subjects to express in a creative way.
Full of drama and often dazzling colour, such creations emerge as powerful, moving, and glorious in their depiction of chaos.
Without this touch of chaos, any kind of creative work can come over as dull, static and uninteresting.
“Without order nothing can exist-without chaos nothing can evolve.”
The chaos in a work of art comes out of the creator’s internal world, which is a mélange of past experience and life experiences, as well as the plethora of unconscious aspects.
Mont Sainte-Victoire. Paul Cezanne. Wikioo.
“The landscape becomes human, becomes a thinking, living being within me. I become one with my picture…we merge in an irridescent chaos.”
Within our minds, there is a vast and complex internal world of our own creation, both conscious and unconscious, a mixed blend of many aspects, including memories, dreams, beliefs, imaginings, experiences, fears, thoughts and feelings.
“This inner world is truly infinite, in no way poorer than the outer one. Man lives in two worlds.”
The chaos in art can be a depiction of an outer event, but it will, inevitably, also reflect the artist’s internal landscape.
Perhaps art and other kinds of creativity provide a way of imposing some order on inner and outer chaos, and of gaining some kind of mastery over it.
The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, London, 1834. JMW Turner. Wikimedia Commons.
“All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman.”
W. H. Auden
Auden’s words are specifically aimed at poets, but we could equally substitute artists, writers, dramatists, and several others, all of who are attracted to such chaotic scenarios.
The chaos of the fire raging in Turner’s wonderful work, above, is captured with all its destructive, dazzling energy, tension, power, and its ‘spectacular carnage.’
Yet, simply through the act of painting this scene on a canvas with edges, Turner has given his chaotic subject firm boundaries, and limits.
In other words he has imposed some order on a situation that is out of control.
“I have great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.”
Septima Poinsette Clark
NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Hubble 25th Anniversary Image. Wikimedia Commons.
“Look deeper through the telescope
and do not be afraid when the stars
collide towards the darkness,
because sometimes the most beautiful
things begin in chaos.”
Robert M. Drake
- Outer Chaos: The ‘Tragi-Comedy.’
Tragic Comic Masks – Roman Mosaic. 2nd Century A.D.
“We all live in a tragicomic situation, a life that is in part absurd simply because it is not of our own making. We are born into a disordered world, into a family we did not choose, into circumstances we would have had somewhat improved, and we are even called by a name we did not select. ”
Sheldon B. Kopp
The above quotation effectively sums up the ‘tragic-comic’ situation into which all of us are born.
The absurdity of life, its often surrealistic and chaotic nature, is something that can cause us pain and frustration, as well as delight and humour.
“Basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all, there is only absurdity, and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.”
Life may be uncertain, unpredictable, and at times absurd, but that does not mean we are without any power.
We can still make decisions, but we need to make them with an awareness that things can, and do, change in the blink of an eye.
“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” Alfred North Whitehead. Wikioo.
When change occurs unexpectedly, we need to have the flexibility to adapt, and make further decisions in the light of the changing circumstances.
Edvard Munch – Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine. Wikimedia Commons.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
- “Cycles of Calm And Chaos”
Calm. Rockwell Kent. Wikioo.
Paul Nash. Wire 1918-19. Wikimedia Commons.
“The only order in the universe is just a cycle of calm and chaos.”
Such is life for all of us, a spiralling journey through periods of chaos, and then peace, both inside and outside of us all.
Somehow, we have to learn that life is unpredictable and it can be difficult and chaotic, but everything is impermanent, nothing lasts, neither the bad nor the good times.
This knowledge give us the strength to weather the storms we encounter along the way.
“Mindset is everything. Like the eye of a storm -find the sunshine and calm within you, even if there is chaos outside of you.”
When there is chaos in the world around us, as there is now, in terms of the Ukraine war and Covid, how can we manage this internally?
“When a person is at home in his life, he always has a clear instinct about the shape of outer situations; even in the midst of confusion he can discern the traces of a path forward.”
In next week’s post, Part 2 of my writings on Chaos, I shall explore managing external chaos, as well as taking a look at chaos in our internal world, therapy, *fractals and (frustrating) attempts to control chaos.