A creativity class I took in 1998 required us to keep a running journal through the class. I stumbled upon some of my journal entries the other day:
January 12th, 10:00pm
Well, since we’re supposed to be stretching ourselves in this class and trying new things, I’ve decided to try a different approach to my writing. Usually I’m a very careful editor, repeatedly rewriting and rearranging everything I write until it’s “perfect.” I even do this with my email. So I guess I’ll try doing this in more of a “stream of consciousness” style. In some ways it may be easier because it will require less editing, but it is more of a risk in that I think I am partly such a rabid rewriter because I believe my original products are usually pretty lousy. I frequently decide that my first words and thoughts sound pretty stupid or illogical or fall apart under more careful scrutiny. Not to mention that my grammar is as poor as my spelling. So this will start out (at least, for as long as I can stand it) as an excercise in putting words and thoughts down, imperfect as they may be, and leaving them there for someone else to judge (even if nobody else will really be reading it).
I am purposefully starting this before I have read any of the class assignments or done any specific reading. I want to explore my definition of creativity before I read or hear about anyone else’s definition. Hopefully, at the end of this semester, I will be able to look back on this and see how my definition has evolved and changed.
Creativity. First I must look at the root of this word. “Create.” My first thought is that creativity is the act of creation, or the ability to create. What does it mean to create? To bring something into being. This implies that something “was not,” and then by the creative process was brought into “being.”
And having said that, some things immediately come to mind. First, the Taoist philosophy of the uncarved block, of which I’m not really sure I am capable of pursuing that with any comprehension. The passage that comes to mind from the Tao te Ching is:
“The way is forever nameless
Though the uncarved block is small
No one in the world dare claim its allegiance...
Only when it is cut are there names.
As soon as there are names
One ought to know that it is time to stop.
Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger.
The way is to the world as the River and the Sea are to rivulets and streams.”
From nothing comes something. It is the nothingness that defines all things, and creation the act of carving the block and giving names. When you have names, you are differentiating, and therefore you do not have the Tao. Yet the Tao is the mother of All.
OK, I honestly don’t know what that has to do with this particular exploration of creativity, but there it is, and maybe sometime I will be able to make sense of it.
The act of creating. Something from nothing. In a most basic sense, every thought we have is an act of creation. It is something from nothing. Where do thoughts come from? From whence do they arise? They appear in our minds like snowflakes caught in a flashlight beam in the darkness. Thinking is creation... the construction of thoughts and sentences and ideas. Constructs of language. And yet we do not normally consider all thoughts and ideas to be particularly “creative.”
So obviously the implied definition of creativity is somewhat more than the simple act of creating something from nothing. It implies something more special, or unusual, although I’m not sure I personally entirely agree with that. (Is a child creating mud pies any less creative than Mozart writing a symphony? Most people would obviously say yes, but I don’t know. I think I may be distrustful because I am suspicious that this may be a value judgement, and I am instinctively distrustful of value judgements.)
I think that society, our environment, perhaps even our own DNA... language structure, the ways we are taught to learn and behave, etc, etc. encourage us to conform to certain patterns of thinking, perceiving, and behaving. These common patterns are considered to be “normal.” Creativity may be perceived as the ability to work/think/perceive/behave/create outside of these “common, normal patterns.” (And I really don’t want to get into the definition of common or normal!) We usually recognise creativity when somebody does something unusual or different or “novel”, be that an extraordinary painting, or a turn of phrase in a book, or asking an unusually insightful scientific question, or coming up with an unusual solution to a problem by having a different perspective on the matter. Most of us follow rat-paths of thinking. Creative people are bushwackers.
The words different or unusual keep coming up. Extraordinary - above ordinary. Not common.
But is creativity really an “ability?” Or is it an “inherent quality?” Or maybe it is just a “noun” that we have created to embody a concept that is truly undefinable? Or is it something else for which I am not coming up with a good word? Is it a “process?” What aspect of our being is our creativity? But it is getting late, and I cannot answer that question at this moment.
January 13th, 7:15pm
I don’t have much time to delve back into this at the moment, but a couple of thoughts came to mind since last night: What is the relationship between creativity and inspiration? And I wonder if the whole creativity=create=creation has found particular meaning for New Age feminists and such as a “female” energy. Giving birth is sort of the ultimate act of creation, and I suppose it might be tempting to tie that into creative energy. Earth energy, mother earth who brings forth all life. Creativity as a “yin” thing. I wonder if someone else has tried to make that particular connection.
Well, off to sword dance practice.
January 14th 12:29pm
My father, who is a landscape/wildlife artist, once said that if you placed two artists of equal skill in front of the same field of flowers and asked them to paint exactly what they saw, they would produce two completely different paintings. The reason for this, he said, was because they would not see the same colors; they would not see the same flowers; they would not see the same thing. I think this is important in the discussion about creativity because it implies that the difference in product is not because of a difference in skill or quality of the output, but rather because the initial input of information into the brain is different, or at least the processing and interpretation of that input is not the same.
So you have the five senses perceiving external stimuli and sending information about that stimuli to the brain. In my father's example, a field of flowers. The brain, somewhere out of the realm of conscious thought, processes that information and interprets it. "OK, this is a field of yellow flowers... it's a sunny day.... the wind is blowing slightly... the pollen is making me sneeze.... etc." When asked to reproduce exactly what they see, the conscious mind of the painter begins to reproduce the visual image onto the canvas. But what comes out will be vastly different between individuals. And according to my father, that is because the information that goes into the individual's brain is interpreted differently in the realm outside of conscious thought. At least, that's what I think he was saying. And I think he may be right.
Dr Pearl once said that people who have achieved true enlightenment literally do not *see* the world in the same way that 99.9% of humanity sees the world. This is also suggested in some of the buddhist writings I have read. I remember one story in particular about two buddhist masters who met for the first time. They went to sit in a garden. They simply sat there for hours without saying a word. Finally, one of them began laughing and pointed at a tree. "And they call that a tree!" he laughed. And the other master started laughing as well. They had a good laugh together, and eventually stood up, and left without saying anything else. These two individuals were not perceiving reality in the same way most of us do.
These two examples make me question whether or not creativity may be effected by the way in which an individual's brain perceives external reality, or the way in which it processes information input into the brain. Input information -------- Subconscious Processing---------- Output information. Can I say that it is the output of information, in the form of writing, or music, or art, or problem solving, etc. that manifests creativity? But I would have to say that the creativity itself occurs in the subconscious processing stage. Why do I say that? Well, the difficulty in defining creativity in the first place indicates that it's not a "conscious" process, or at least that it is a very nebulous sort of thing. And also the fact that so many creative people contribute their success to "inspiration."
The Greeks had their muses, and how many brilliant people throughout history have attributed their insight and brilliance to the inspiration of God or the divine? This talent, this creativity... they attribute it to something outside of themselves. If they knew how they did it, they could explain how they were doing it, and they probably wouldn't attribute it to some external force. But they can't explain it. Spiritus.
Several years ago, I was trying to get a short story written for an anthology before a deadline, and I wasn't having much luck coming up with a decent plot. I spent a lot of time trying to come up with something, but with no success. Then one morning I was taking a shower, and the entire plot for a story came to me out of the blue. One minute there was nothing, the next, there it was. It just unfolded itself in my mind in the time it took me to wash my hair. It took me two days to write, and one day to edit. I sent it off mere days before the deadline, and it sold. Inspiration... I can't explain it. I don't know where that plot came from. It's like it wasn't part of me, and yet it became part of me as it flowed through me onto the paper. It was an act of creation, of creativity, but it wasn't something that happened consciously. (Actually, that's what most of my writing is like... it's almost like it's not really me writing at all, but someone or something writing through me. I am continually thinking, "My gosh, how did I come up with that????" I just regret that I am not a better instrument... I'm like a pen that doesn't work very well. Moments of good ink flow, moments where there's not much flowing at all.)
Ah.... but here comes the Taoist uncarved block again. Divine inspiration... spiritus.... the muses... the Tao is the uncarved block... the uncarved block represents all potentials, all possibilities... all things... all that is, all that is not, all that was, all that will be, all that never was, all that never will be.... ALL... including Nothing... In a Taoist universe, it is not possible to create something that is not already part of the Tao, because the Tao is ALL. All the artist is doing is carving the uncarved block into something which can be named. I could say that my story already existed in the Tao, unwritten, and I, as part of the Tao as well, was but the medium by which it came to be put into words. It was there, I was receptive. It came out on paper.
Now, in a universe governed by the divine... God inspired me, graced me with the story and the talent to put it into words. Again, I was not the creator, God was. Or maybe it was the muses who inspired me and helped me find the right words. In either case, I did not write the story without divine assistance. It wasn't all me. And it didn't all come from me... it came from something greater than me, as a gift. (Is that where we get the idea that someone is "gifted?.")
"Tap creative energy." Is creative energy something we can hook up to a volt meter and read? No. "Get the creative juices flowing. " Energy, flowing, fluid, movement, juice (nourishing?), water (oops, that goes back to female yin, doesn't it? heh, heh... the Christian God is male, but the Greek muses were female...), Aquarius, wisdom, enlightenment, "and they call that a tree?" Weird stuff happens in our subconscious minds.
I think I believe in two possible explanations for creativity. The hard core science model (my father doesn't believe in divinity) and the divine model (although the Buddhists and Taoists would have a fit for me using the word "divine").
The hard core science model is simply that creative people process information gathered by the five senses in their subconscious minds in a way that is different from most people. Their brains put together information better, or more uniquely, or "creatively" than other people, and that shows in the outputs of their brains. Maybe they’re using different parts of their brain, or different thinking strategies (is that possible?). Perhaps they are more "in tune" with their subconscious mind, but the subconscious mind is just the natural product of the brain with its extraordinary chemistry and synapses and electrical impulses, etc. Creativity can be encouraged by training the brain to think in different patterns, utilizing different synapses, or becoming more consciously aware of the subconscious store-house of information, or something to that effect.
The divine model is more along the lines of, yes, there is more to you than just your physical body. Soul, spirit, we are connected to more than just ourselves. The buddhists say, I am you, you are me, we are all. It's not a tree, it's me, it's you, it's everything, the universe. The Taoists might say, it's the Way, the Tao. My friend Ellen, the Episcopalian, would say, it's God. Jeanna would say, it's the Goddess. Jung might call it the "collective consciousness" or something like that. Someone else might call it "The Creative Force" (may it be with you). But all imply a connection to more than just our individual physical selves. And this model might say that creativity is at least partly the result of connection to that greater external reality. Intuition is another means for picking up bits of an external reality beyond the usual 5 senses. Inspiration is the result of intiution on speed, or maybe even direct intervention by divinity or some other energy or energy force. In this model, creativity can be encouraged by breaking down the barriers between our conscious minds and our subconscious minds which are more connected to "the spirit" and a “greater” reality and truth. (Oh boy, I had to drag in Truth to that, didn’t I? But aren’t creative people often showing us another aspect of Truth that we hadn’t seen before?)
I think it's pretty safe to say that nobody (well, OK, maybe some really enlightened people) really knows what goes on in that part of our minds from which conscious thoughts arise. I tend to ascribe to buddhist beliefs, but I've never read any buddhist discussions on the nature of creativity or the creative process. However, I do think that meditation probably helps to break down the barriers between the conscious and subconscious minds, and that this probably helps and encourages intuition and creativity in general. This would work in either model. (In fact, I think the key to encouraging creativity in general is to break down that barrier. The subconscious mind is the room, meditation and "creativity encouraging excercises" (whatever they may be) are the key to the room, and the barrier between conscious and subconscious mind is the locked door.) (And isn’t it interesting that I call it a barrier or door? I wonder where I came up with those terms?)
I personally believe that we are connected to the universe in ways that science cannot yet begin to explain, and that creativity, inspiration, and intuition are all influenced by that connection in ways that I really can't explain or consciously understand.
OK, now I get to find out what other people say. :-)
January something (Saturday), 7:40am
I’m waiting as late as I can before giving Cindy and Russell a call to see if they want to go to Tulsa with me this morning. I had my third eye enhancement yesterday, and this is my post-op follow up. I was abandoned in one of the exam rooms yesterday, and I noticed several “eye physiology” posters up on the wall, and since I was bored I decided to get up and investigate. It was a scrabble lover’s dream. The most delightful terms... Schwalbe’s Line, Trabecular Mesh, Fontana’s Spaces, and my personal favorite: the Canal of Sclemm. I thought they might make good landscape names for some planet named the Eye of Orion. You know, take Schwalbe’s line out to Fontana’s Spaces in order to go anti-graving in the trabecular mesh. Of course, that’s really dangerous, and you have to be very careful to stay away from the Canal of Sclemm. After all, people keep disappearing around there, and nobody has really successfully identified what schlemm is. Nevermind that it can be seen glowing in the light of the seventh moon during scalopter fall and has a tendency to pull in blocter trees when least expected..
But it’s time to make the dreaded call to see if I can wake them up. Ya ha ha.
January something (Sunday), 1998
Well, I’m waiting until the last moment do my reading for class, and as I’m reading along, I can’t resist the urge to comment. Chapter One of Those Who Create, the title implying, of course, that there are those Who Don’t Create, which, I think, is probably a notion which causes more harm than good, and is a rather denigrating view of humanity as a whole. But, oh well, try telling that to anyone else. We have to have our value judgements, don’t we? One more way to separate us and stratify us.
And actually, that brings me to another point of irritation about this whole creativity thing. In class the first day, Ellen or Helen or whoever it was who had the stroke or head trauma and had lost her memory and said she was in the process of rediscovering herself... she made a comment in class, I don’t remember what exactly it was, but she said something about “people who are creative” making it very clear that she did not consider herself to be one of those people. She was so insecure about it, and so pained by thought that she was not creative, that it made me upset, and I should have said something then, but I didn’t. I think one of the biggest handicaps to creativity is this notion that there are creative people and people who are not creative. Bullshit. Every human being has the potential to be creative, but by separating ourselves into us vs them, when we voluntarily place ourselves in the “not creative” category, it becomes self fullfilling. We voluntarily lock ourselves out from our creative potentials. If this class does anything for Ellen or Helen or whatever her name is, I hope that it makes her realize that she is creative, and that she will be able to claim that adjective for herself.
Why do we separate ourselves into the “not creative” category? Fear. Fear of having our creative endeavors ridiculed or laughed at, perhaps from an early age. Our society is very unforgiving of anything that is “different.” Lucky is the person whose creative output is recognized as such. Given the freedom... a blank slate of permission like is apparently being given in this class... I dare say that anybody, even Ellen/Helen will be able to come up with a pretty neat final creative project. The key is first being given that permission, and second being given some excercises that may help bridge the gap between conscious and creative mind.
OK, tirade over, back to the book.
“He stated that he wasn’t goint to use that ‘education and psychology baloney and gobbledygook that no one can even understand.’” Hurray for a denouncement of jargon! “Gobbledygook that no one can even understand.” This is a perfect description of the intellectual jargon used by any number of academic disciplines. We find wonderful illustrations of gobbledygook later on in the chapter when the author goes rambling on about Guilford’s “the intellective quality of quickness” (which I guess is supposed to translate into “how fast a person learns”) and “the presence of the nonintellective quality of persistance” (which I guess is supposed to translate into “determination.”) Of course, because the ideas are so cleverly couched in goobledygook definitions, I have no idea if my translations are really accurate or not, thereby revealing the special power of jargon: only the few, the educated, those in the “special circle of knowledge” will ever know what the Hell you’re really talking about. It’s like a secret code. And don’t we all just love being the only ones in “the know?” I just wish the author would bother filling me in on it, too. Especially when she goes wandering off into Guilford’s “divergent production” without really bothering to explain what that is. In the last paragraph of the section she vaguely defines “convergent” vs. “divergent,” but not what is meant by “production.” What is being produced? Thoughts? Creations? Both? I’m not sure. Obviously these are important concepts, because I seen “divergent thinking” mentioned in relation to creativity in several different places. Is this something mainstream that I’m already supposed to know? Maybe I’m just ignorant.
However, I did find the quotes from Joseph Campbell to be quite fascinating: “The focus of creative thought, Campbell explained, was always the search for the elemental, the true, the archetypal.” That rings very true with me, but then, I have read The Masks of God, so perhaps his definition of creativity leached its way into my subconscious and found a welcome home there.
Another day in January, Monday night, after class -
Well, somebody in class said that he thought it was very difficult for him to determine what was creative and what was not creative... ie. is it possible to determine what is *not* creative. I can see this perspective, but Dr. Montgomery came down very firmly on the side that some things are creative and others aren’t. I can tell that this is something I’m going to have to muddle over for a while. I think I’m still hung up on the idea that all thoughts are acts of creation... I’m resisting the idea that creativity implies the quality of absolute uniqueness that seems so prevelent.
January 27th, Tuesday
Well, it’s been over a week since I’ve written anything. I haven’t come up with any resolution about the “what is creative and what is not.” But the Action Theater we did in class yesterday had some interesting effects. It wasn’t easy for me to swear like that... every other word a fuck or shit. So ugly and hateful. But it did open some doors... amazing how doing something so foreign to one’s own nature will let the subconscious ghosts out to play. The obnoxious child in the dumpster had a good romp yesterday, and with her came such an incredible flare of ego and power-lust. That force... that will... oh, what would I do to the world if I let her go unleashed? Would I have friends? Would I be rich? What would I do to the people closest to me? Would they know me? Would I know myself? Could I love myself if I were to let her loose? The power... I could bulldoze anyone or anything; I can feel the force of my personality, raw grating, energy. No peace there, no down comforter, or healing white light. Chaos, upheaval, don’t stand in my way, because I will have my way. The utter selfishness of a stubborn child. My best, my worst. But aren’t children like that? Our best, our worst.
January 29th, 1998
The comparison of Jung’s idea of a collective consciousness to Santa Claus in our reading for this week certainly got my hackles raised. This rant may lead my creative project for the semester, because I think it will take me a semester to fully explore all the reasons why I know the author to be absolutely wrong. There *is* a connection to something *more,* and the label “collective consciousness “ works just as well as “God” or “Tao” or “The Force” or any other term used to describe what is probably the same thing. It just makes me so angry when people who have not experienced this connection for themselves are so willing to write it off as the product of an overactive imagination, as ficticious as Santa Claus. They just don’t have a clue what they’re missing and denouncing.
February 1st, 1998
Well, I’ve been very negligent about keeping this up, but it’s not for lack of being creative. So creativity manifests itself through the shadow function, eh? Well, no wonder I love to dance; too bad talent doesn’t manifest itself through the shadow function as well. I’d have grace to spare in that case. Looking back on the video tape of sword dance practice Tuesday night, though, I don’t look as awkward and clumsy as I feel, though, and that’s encouraging. Maybe there’s hope for me afterword.
I still don’t understand how my writing could be a sensing function, though.
I had a semi lucid dream this morning... I was flying/hopping on a mop handle... I wonder if that’s a twist on witches and their broom handles?