What is the essence of creativity? A question I encountered on twitter and ironically have never considered until now, even though I am regularly engaged in the creative process. I would like to establish the terms that my enquiry will be based upon and any relevant points.
Firstly this will be my understanding of ‘essence’ (which I have taken from here). ‘In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity.’ Secondly the creative process is a result of creativity itself so perhaps it is important to take a look at the creative process in order to understand creativity.
Rabindranath Tagore asks, ‘What is Art? It is the response of man’s creative soul to the call of the Real.’ So what is this ‘creative soul’ and What is its essence? To these questions I have no fixed and final answer but can only explore them as best I can, using my experience and intuition to inform my judgements.
From a theological perspective, if man was made in the image of God and God created the Universe: then this Divine, macrocosmic creativity must be reflected within man on a microcosmic level. The creative impulse within man is therefore essentially a Divine quality, in that man was created by God and created in his image. The ‘creative soul’, as Tagore calls it, is then perhaps this microcosmic creative impulse. So the essence of creativity, weather it manifests itself in the microcosmic or macrocosmic realm is Divine.
The creative process, and creativity itself have been discussed and re discussed by many philosophers and psychologists throughout history. These ideas range from Plato’s belief that creativity is a result of the influence of outside forces upon man, such as the Muses to Kant’s ideas that the creative person is able to allow his imagination and his cognitive ability to work freely together without the constraints of rules and regulations. Jung believed the creative process to be one of five instincts which is particularly interesting because I find myself compelled to create and cannot avoid that urge.
Creativity was for Jung in a class by itself. His descriptions of it refer specifically to the impulse to create art.
Though we cannot classify it with a high degree of accuracy, the creative instinct is something that deserves special mention. I do not know if “instinct” is the correct word. We use the term “creative instinct” because this factor behaves at least dynamically, like an instinct. Like instinct it is compulsive, but it is not common, and it is not a fixed and invariably inherited organization. Therefore I prefer to designate the creative impulse as a psychic factor similar in nature to instinct, having indeed a very close connection with the instincts, but without being identical with any one of them.(…) [“Psychological Factors in Human Behaviour,” CW 8, par. 245.] The above quote was taken from here
So far both the ideas above capture some elements of my experience of creativity and the creative process. There is an aspect of some creative moments that are unplanned, spontaneous and inspired and it is difficult to explain how those enlightened moments come about without ascribing a higher influence to them. Other artists have described times where they have had clear minds, no thoughts and the creativity just flowed through them as if they were simply a vehicle, it is these moments I am referring to.
There is something more to the essence of creativity that I think only the Dalai Lama has spoken about, and when I heard it I felt immediately released. He states that ultimately we pursue creative activities to bring about human happiness.
The pursuit of happiness is what humans are ultimately occupied with and creativity is one of the means to this end. When I create a piece of art work and someone else appreciates it I feel happiness. When an idea is transformed from a technical drawing into the finished piece it brings joy and satisfaction. Of course this pursuit of happiness through creativity displays itself in rather misconstrued and twisted forms too, but ultimately weather it is through My bed or the Primavera it is for the sake of happiness and is an essential part of human creativity and the creative process.
To conclude creativity is an essential part of human nature and whether it is because we are a vessel through which the creative force flows or because it is instinctual, seems less important in the face of our desire to be happy. In addition the creative force may have unhappy results for some, or may lead to merely temporary happiness as mentioned by the Dalai Lama (in the clip above). So the search for happiness, although not an essential attribute of creativity itself, is however very closely connected to the essence of creativity and cannot therefore be ignored.
I feel it is important for me to mention that I am not an expert in philosophy, psychology or theology and that this enquiry is my own attempt to understand the creative process. I imagine that as my experience as an artist increases further, as I discuss these questions with others and as life waxes and wanes my thoughts may change. If you have any thoughts/experiences or have considered this topic yourself then please feel free to comment below.