Much has been written about the subject of creativity: What is it? Where does it come from? How can it be controlled? What makes a person creative? Can it be learned? And on, and on...and on. To this vast topic, I’d like to add my own two cents worth, which (considering inflation) is now more like my own two hundred dollars worth.
First of all, I strongly believe that creativity is inherent in every one of us. It is a given aspect of being human. Just look at the creativity of children to see the most blatant example. If any distinction applies it is between those who regularly use their creative abilities and those who have the creative potential but do not apply it. The primary difference between these two groups is not creativity but inspiration. Those who create are inspired to do so. It is what makes them feel fully alive. It is how they make meaning of their life and the culture surrounding them.
In the remainder of this blog and the one to follow, I’d like to explore my own thoughts on the creative force.
Creativity, the Universe, and Play
In any of my creative endeavors, whether it be writing, film-making, or sculpture, I’ve always had the sense that I was definitely not the one in control of the creative force. As James Abbott McNeill Whistler (the painter of “Whistler’s Mother”) aptly put it, “Art happens—no hovel is safe from it, no prince can depend on it, the vastest intelligence cannot bring it about.” Creativity is not something that one can control or force. You cannot sit down and say to yourself, “In the next half hour I’m going to be creative.” You have to allow the creative impulse to come to you. It seems that creativity exists somewhere beyond our conscious mind. Depending on your belief this might be in the subconscious, God, or in the cosmic consciousness of the universe. But to whatever we attribute creativity, the most we can do is to allow ourselves be receptive, to act as a conduit for the creativity that flows through us. This holds true even in the world of science. A classic example comes with the discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. After years of research, the Nobel laureates Francis Crick and James Watson finally realized that DNA was composed of a double-helix. But the answer to DNA’s design came not from the lab but from Watson’s dream of two intertwining snakes.
For me, the creative act is a matter of letting go of my conscious and controlling mind as much as possible. To do so, allows me to be open to the creative essence. As Peter Koestenbaum, the philosopher, said, “Creativity is harnessing universality and making it flow through your eyes.” In fact, when working on a particular piece I often get “stuck.” I know that what I have in front of me isn’t working, but I have no idea of what to do. In times like these, I generally go out into my garden to get my hands dirty and immerse myself in mindless physical work. Doing so will usually clear my mind and allow the creative “solution” to come to me. The harder I try to intellectually envision a solution, the further I am from the solution. Only by forgetting about the problem does the answer arise.
Play is also an essential element of creativity. I strongly remember the feeling I had while creating my first abstract sculpture about six years ago. The sculpture was composed of beautifully twisted and aged tree limbs that remained from an ancient apple tree that had finally died and fallen in my back yard. I spent the day using heavy copper wire to tie several of these limbs together into a nest-like form. And, as I did so, I was overcome with a feeling of childlike play. I was immediately transported to memories of making small objects of twigs as a young boy. This was pure play...no ultimate objective, no sense of there being a right or a wrong way to assemble the limbs, no time lines, no need for outward approval...the joy was in the process of play, pure and simple.
According to Carl G. Jung, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” The improvisational violinist Stephen Nachmanovitch agrees when he states, “Creative work is play. It is free speculation using the materials of one’s chosen form.”
So, my first two criteria for creativity are a playful spirit and a clear and open mind. And remember, these qualities are not unique to those who are considered “creative individuals.” They are part of the heritage of everyone of us. In my next blog posting, I’ll discuss “Creativity and Chance.” I hope to see you then, and I welcome any thoughts you may have about creativity.