Encountering creativity


Creativity is a heightened state of consciousness. The state in which the dichotomy between a subjective experience and the objective reality is overcome and symbols which reveal new meaning are born. This is a quality of the emotion (or, more accurately, a quality of the relationship, one side of which is emotional) rather than a quantity. It is a temporary transcending of the subject-object dichotomy that could be an ecstatic experience. This experience of encounter also brings with it anxiety that will need to be confronted with courage.

Creative people are distinguished by the fact that they have learned to live with anxiety, even though they pay a huge price for becoming vulnerable with insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness. Classical Greeks have called this state as that of “divine madness.” The creative people dig in and not run away from non-being, but by encountering and grappling with it, they force it to produce being. They pursue the meaninglessness until they can force it to mean something exquisite. That is a lot of psychology mumbo-jumbo for you. What does all this mean?

What is creativity?

The definition of creativity in its most authentic form is that it is the process of bringing something new into being. And the pseudo definition would be that it is a superficial aestheticism that deals only with appearance and not reality itself. This crucial distinction between genuine art and artificiality is important to understand. Plato, for example, demoted his poets and artists down to the sixth circle of reality because, he said, they deal only with appearances and not with reality. He was referring to art as decoration, a way of making life prettier. He called the true artists – namely, those who give birth to some new reality. In other words, these are the ones who enlarge human consciousness. Their creativity is the most basic manifestation of a man or a woman fulfilling his or her own being in the world.

So creativity can be seen in the work of scientists as well as in that of an artist; in the thinker as well as in the aesthetician; in the champions of modern technology as well as in a storyteller writing a screenplay. Webster’s dictionary defines creativity as basically the process of making, of bringing into being.

The creative process

The creating process must be explored not as the product of some kind of sickness, but as representing the highest degree of emotional health, as the expression of normal people in the act of actualizing themselves. If we were a fly observing an artist going through his motions, we would clearly notice that his creative act is an encounter. He encounters the landscape he proposes to paint. He will look at it from different angles. He remains engrossed in it for long periods of time. Then he approaches his canvas with the palette of colors and his brushes, which become a secondary part of his encounter that is merely the medium or language he uses to express. However the quality of that engagement has a certain degree of absorption and intensity that may or may not involve voluntary effort of his will power.

For a storyteller, it might be a sudden idea for an excellent story that would get her started. She might work it out into a full outline in her head or even write it up on paper. She would just relish and enjoy the sheer ecstasy of spewing out the story outline on paper. Then she would read and re-read it to make sure that all the nuances and details is mentally working out and is then captured in the best possible manner available to her. Then she starts writing the detailed screenplay with item in the outline flushed out into one or more scenes with exquisite details. If we were watching this person work, you will notice that the paper, the pen, the place where she is sitting are all just enablers to bring out what she is experiencing into paper, as fast as possible.

You might see her going through different emotions of the characters she is creating in herself as she brings them all out onto the paper. So from experience she wouldn’t want these instrument and process to cause any friction in her act of creativity that she would be going through. She might use index-cards on a large cork-board to get the sequence of her beats right. She might capture the first draft by using computer software to make it format right as she types it out on the keyboard. Whatever means she uses the creativity will have to flow out without feeling any friction to the degree of absorption or intensity she has in the engagement with her creating the story.

Intensity of the encounter

Genuine creativity is characterized by a heightened intensity of consciousness and awareness. A screenplay writer might experience moments of intensive encounter when clear neurological changes can be observed with physical symptoms such as faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure, constriction of vision with narrowed eyelids as though closely watching the scenes being created, playing out in his or her mind’s eye. The writer may become oblivious to the surroundings, the time, and may even skip meals due to loss of appetite.

However what the creator feels while going through this process is not anxiety or fear, but pure joy. It is not gratification or satisfaction resulting in happiness or pleasure, which may be what the creator feels much later. Rather, it is joy. Joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one’s own potentialities.

Encounter as interrelating with the world

An encounter is always a meeting between two poles. The subjective pole is the conscious person in the creative act itself. The objective pole of this dialectical relationship is the world. This world is actually a pattern of meaningful relations in which the creator exists and in the design of which he/she participates. It has objective reality that is interrelated with the creator at every moment. A continual dialectical process goes on between the world and self, and self and the world; one implies the other, and neither can be understood if we omit the other. What occurs is always a process, a doing – specifically a process interrelating the creator and his or her world.

The consciousness which obtains its creativity is an encounter with the world on a level that undercuts the subject-object split, and not on a superficial level of objectified intellectualization. “Creativity,” to rephrase our definition, “is the encounter of the intensely conscious human being with his or her world.”

Note: This write-up was based on a book – “The Courage To Create,” by Dr. Rollo May, Published by Bantam Books, Inc.

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