Are you creative? Does even the question make you cringe? Do you secretly think you are but dare not say so to others? When I started doing workshops on art and spirituality, I encountered a lot of people with what I call "fear of art-making." There is much to be said about how this came to happen to so many of us, this assignment of creativity as a trait to a precious few. But for the moment let's pursue a more inclusive, optimistic idea about creativity.
Robert Sternberg, former president of American Psychological Association, has written extensively about “defying the crowd”, about psychologists and other scientists who were creative and faced many obstacles gaining acceptance in their own professions. He posits that creativity is fundamentally a decision, connected very little to innate ability. He writes that people are creative largely because
they have the will and the courage to:
do things like define problems differently than the ways their colleagues do,
and to have enough humility to accept new and better ideas and be willing to grow,
and to continue to believe in themselves when no one else does.
Deciding to create depends on persistence in the face of obstacles and rejection, requires flexibility and humor, and the willingness to encounter different ways of thinking.
Sternberg writes, “People generally decide against creativity because the creative way often is too painful, at least in the short run. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s change it.” (RJ Sternberg, "Creativity is a decision", APA Monitor on Psychology , V. 34, No. 10, November 2003).
I like this idea. My sense is that the heart of creativity is about seeing--in both the broadest and finest sense of the word. Putting things together in a new way requires seeing different aspects or angles, seeing possibilities and connections, seeing new relationships. It is perspective with fresh results. It is "taking a long loving look at the real", as Walter Burghardt advised, but also at what might be. The way we see is based in who we are. It is looking at the world with eyes of wonder and appreciation, and asking questions. The techniques of expression are myriad, but it all starts with seeing. There are people who the world calls creative because they make things. But they do not necessarily see nor have the courage to say what they see. Change for change’s sake alone is not particularly creative, nor is a random juxtaposition that doesn’t result in new perspective, but rather just clangs.
So what is "seeing differently" about? This process is visual, perceptual, intuitive, emotional, contextual, experiential, attentive, contemplative. It can be a felt sense (i.e. located in the body), in rhythm with or in reaction to (dance, responses to music, singing). The viewer/listener/reader interacts with the art and "sees" differently as a result of the encounter. Thus art is fundamentally social. Creative people seek out the stimulation of different media to fuel their own process. Seeing is about fresh encounter, it is about being awake.
What are your ways to stay awake, mindful? It isn't easy. Sometimes it helps to create a little jolt of change. Simple things to change familiar routines can provide that "just enough" change. Things such as driving a different way to work every few days.(see an earlier post "Take a Wrong Turn".) Or enter your home by a different door, it changes your movement and your perspective. Look for things in the environment intentionally, thematically. For example, one day on the way to work, why not look for the color red? The next day look for blues. Or how about taking a 5 minute "sensory break" once a day? Taste, touch, smell, listen , look at what is around you in just that moment.
My nephew was 7 and we were exploring the Fort Worth Nature Center. We had walked a long way on this particular trail, and mindful of the time, I knew we had come to a place to start the return trip. Ethan was disappointed, he wanted to keep going to see what was at the end of the trail.
"Ethan," I said, " you know, things will look so different on the way back, it will be like we are on a new trail. Keep your eyes open, and you might see some amazing things." Sure enough, we soon came upon a beautiful iridescent lizard, like I have never seen before.
"Wow", said Ethan. "That’s an amazing thing!" A little later we came across a very large turtle crossing the path right in front of us. "Two amazing things!" Ethan shouted. Now his eyes were roving the area with expectation, he was completely engaged in our walk. Sure enough, we came upon a beautiful green snake. "Three amazing things, three, Aunt Carol! You said we would find amazing things and we did! "
I was grateful to Ethan, and grateful for a synchronous universe, and being able to keep a promise…..
What is "seeing"? Some of you may be like me, and read the dictionary for fun. Will anyone confess to this? At any rate, I looked up the word "see" for fun, and found 13 definitions. Let’s look at the synonyms for these definitions:
Come to know
Investigate or inquire
Acknowledge or consider something being pointed out
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner