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The Artist's Struggle
The Artist And Practice
Will, Synchronicity and Art :
Creation is not the replacing of nothing with something or chaos with pattern.
There is no chaos; there is a vast, living world
in which the rules for specifying the pattern are so complicated
that after you look at a few of them you become tired.
The creative act pulls out some more inclusive shape or progression
that gathers an immense amount of complexity into a simple, satisfying notion.
Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Art and Life
This extraordinary little book contains the finest writing I've seen on Creativity.
If there's any group of people in the world that has the ability to influence the course of things in all areas of life, it's the artists. The masses of people look to the artists for a lifestyle and a dream of the future, not those with apparent power, such as government, the medical profession, the educational system, newspapers and the mass media. Though these institutions have a functional job to do, it's the artists who ultimately influence the masses of people and promote and seek agreement on how life should be.So you see, the artist has a very important and great responsibility. For if he uses his art to promote false or bad things or a low way of living, and gets enough agreement on it, conditions will get worse.But the beauty of it is that the artist also can conceive of the most beautiful things, the most loving and free-flowing way of living, the most wondrous not-yet-created universes -- and he can begin to live this and create his art and communicate it with these things in mind. And if he pays attention to all the aspects involved, and develops his ability to communicate well, wonderful things can and will happen -- and conditions around us will become safer and more beautiful. This is what true art can do, and there's nothing more fulfilling than doing that.So let's do it.Chick Corea, The Function of an Artist, Part II reprinted in Downbeat 75th Anniversary Issue, July, 2009
The Indians knew long ago that music was going on permanently and that hearing it was like looking out a window at a landscape which didn't stop when one turned away.
Creating is Living Doubly
Art, it seems to me, should simplify.
I have been no more than a medium, as it were.
The motion akin to the divine part of us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. These every man should follow, correcting those circuits in the head that were deranged by birth, by learning to know the harmonies and revolutions of the world; he should assimilate the thinking being to the thought, renewing his original nature.
Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world;
he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it.
This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientists do, each in his own fashion.
Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way
peace and security which he can not find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other actor through any other medium and will be lost.Martha Graham
My conception of the audience is of a public
each member of which is carrying about with him
what he thinks is an anxiety, or a hope, or a preoccupation
which is his alone and isolates him from mankind;
and in this respect at least the function of a play is
to reveal him to himself so that he may touch others
by virtue of the revelation of his mutuality with them.
If only for this reason I regard the theater as a serious business,
one that makes or should make man more human,
which is to say, less alone.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.Wendell Berry, in Standing by Words (1983)
The Artist's Struggle
No writer writes out of having found the answer to the problem. He writes rather out of his having the problem and wanting a solution. The solution does not consist of a resolution. It consists of the deeper and wider dimension of consciousness to which the writer is carried by virtue of his wrestling with the problem. We create out of a problem; the writer and the artist are not presenting answers but creating as an experience of something in themselves trying to work – “to seek, to find and not to yield.”
The contribution which is given to the world by the painting or the book is the process of the search.
Rollo May, Love and Will (1969)
The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him – on the one hand the common human longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire…. There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of creative fire.
Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.
Art is dangerous. It is one of the attractions: when it ceases to be dangerous you don't want it.
Evil is of fundamental
importance also in the creative process.
For although creativity is usually evaluated as exclusively positive,
the fact is that whenever creative expression becomes an inner necessity,
evil is also constellated."
The daimonic is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person. Sex and Eros, anger and rage, and the craving for power are examples. The daimonic can be either creative or destructive and is normally both….
The daimonic is the urge in every living being to affirm itself, assert itself, perpetuate and increase itself. The daimonic becomes evil when it usurps the total self without regard to the integration of that self, or to the unique forms and desires of others and their need for integration. It then appears as excessive aggression, hostility, cruelty – the things about ourselves which horrify us most and which we repress whenever we can or, more likely, project on others. But these are the reverse side of the same assertion which empowers our creativity. All life is a flux between these two aspects of the daimonic. We can repress the daimonic, but we cannot avoid the toll of apathy and the tendency toward later explosion which such repression brings in its wake.
The Greek concept of "daimon"—the
origin of our modern concept—included the creativity
of the poet and artist as well as that of the ethical and religious leader, and is the contagious
power which the lover has. Plato argued that ecstasy, a "divine madness," seizes the creative person.
This is an early form of the puzzling and never-solved problem of the intimate relationship between
the genius and madman.
Rollo May, Love and Will (1969)
(some italics added)
Anger, Rage, Anxiety and Creativity
Stephen A. Diamond
Stephen Diamond was a student and follower of the late Rollo May,
and this essay reflects the spinning out of May's concept of the daimonic, just above.
May's work has influenced my own thinking more than any other thinker.
Anger Madness and the Daimonic:
The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil and Creativity
There is very strong
correlation between anger, rage and creativity.
Most of us view anger or rage negatively, but anger can also motivate
constructive, creative behavior. The more conflict, the more rage,
the more anxiety there is, the more the inner necessity to create.
the creative process, one can enter into a state of 'benevolent possession' --
swept up in the raging current of primordial images, ideas, intuitions and emotions
emanating from the daimonic or unconscious, while also retaining sufficient
conscious control to render this raw energy into some new creative form.
This kind of voluntary possession can be a constructive, integrating, even
healing experience. But its inducement demands discipline and skill, including
adequate ego strength to withstand and meaningfully structure (rather than succumb to)
daimonic chaos. The boundary between benevolent and malevolent possession
is perilously permeable. The insight, creativity, inspiration and ecstasy of
voluntary possession, can quickly deteriorate into ...the dark side of creativity
.... long associated with mania, madness or psychosis.
Anxiety is related
to fear of the unknown, of the unconscious, and of death.
Creativity requires making use of this existential anxiety. There are two
fundamental responses to anxiety: avoidance or confrontation.
Creativity involves the confrontation of anxiety, and of that which underlies it
-- discovering the meaning of one's anxiety; the unacceptable (daimonic)
impulses conflicting with consciousness that threaten to break through their
repression and profoundly damage our sense of identity, our 'persona'
as Jung called it, or our egos. But if we can stand firm without running,
tolerating the anxiety these unwanted visitations engender, we can begin
to give them form and hear what it is they want of us. Creativity comes
from this refusal to run, this willing encounter with anxiety. It is an opening up
to the unknown, the unconscious, the daimonic. And it can be terrifying.
The artist learns to use the anxiety to work rather than escape.
This requires immense courage, the courage to create.
We create because we seek to give some formal expression to inner experience.
That inner experience is sometimes joy, peace, tranquility, love, etc.
and we wish to share that experience with the world. But anxiety inevitably
accompanies the creative process because in order to be creative --
to bring something new into being, something unique, original, revolutionary --
one must take risks: the risk of making a fool of oneself; the risk of failing;
the risk of being rejected. One can never know the outcome of
the process at the outset. Nonetheless -- once we completely
commit to the creative process -- there can be moments of lucidity,
clarity, passionate intensity that transcend all petty concerns. It is then --
when we stop worrying, stop trying so hard, when we relinquish ego control
and surrender to the daimonic, when we relax or play -- that what Jung termed
the 'transcendent function' engages and the conflict is resolved,
the problem is solved, the creative answer revealed.
in my heart the daemons and the gods
Wage an eternal battle....
William Butler Yeats
It's like an act of murder; you play with intent to commit something.
Medicine to produce health must examine disease; and music, to create harmony must investigate discord.
There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.
If the oyster had hands, there would be no pearl. Because the oyster is forced to live with the irritation for an extended period of time, the pearl comes to be.
Stephen Nachmanovitch, in Free Play (1990)
The writing of a poem brings one
face to face with one's personality
with all its familiar and clumsy limitations...
In poetry one is wrestling...with a god.
The cleavage between expectations and reality... is present as one condition of all creative activity.
The artist conceives of a landscape in his imagination that has significant form... partially the way he sees the natural scene and partially produced by his own imagination. His painting is the result of his capacity to wed his own expectations -- in this case, his artistic conception -- with the reality of the scene before him. Similarly, every scientific endeavor consists of the scientist's bringing to bear his own expectations -- his hypothesis -- upon reality, and when this process is successful he uncovers some reality which was not known in that way before.
This capacity to experience a gap between expectations and reality and, with it, the capacity to bring one's expectations into reality, is the characteristic of all creative endeavor. ...This capacity is the condition both for anxiety and for creativity.
In neurotic anxiety, the cleavage between expectation and reality is in the form of a contradiction. Expectation and reality cannot be brought together, ...and the individual engages in a neurotic distortion of reality. In the long run, it makes the contradiction between expectations and reality more rigid.... IN productive activity, the expectations are not in contradiction, but are used as a means of creatively transforming reality... by bringing expectations and reality progressively into greater accord..
Rollo May, The Meaning of Anxiety, Revised Edition
"Creativity" is... the production of something that is both new and valuable.
I have described the creative cognitive process as the janusian process, after Janus, the Roman god of doorways and beginnings, whose faces look in opposite directions at the same time.
The janusian process lies at the heart of the most striking creative breakthroughs. Contrary to the romantic notion that creativity grows largely out of inspiration, the thinking of dreams or some unconscious source, the janusian process is a conscious, rational process.
In the janusian process, multiple opposites or antitheses are conceived simultaneously, either as existing side by side or as equally operative, valid or true. In an apparent defiance of logic or of physical possibility, the creative person formulates the simultaneous operation of antithetical elements ... and develops them into ...integrated creations. It is...a leap that transcends ordinary logic. What emerges is no mere combination of blending -- but also antagonistic elements experienced and understood as coexistent. As a self-contradictory structure, the janusian formulation is surprising when seriously posited. Although it usually appears modified and transformed in the final product, it leaves the mark of unexpectedness and paradox on the work.
The janusian process seldom appears in the final artistic product, but it occurs at crucial points in the generation and development of the work. [Prof. Rothenberg then draws examples from r eports studies, writings and interviews with the likes of Eugene O'Neill, Maxwell Anderson, Joseph Conrad, Robert Penn Warren, Arthur Miller, Richard Wilbur, John Hersey, sketches for Picasso's Guernica, notes from Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh and John Constable; Henry Moore, Leonard Bernstein, Josef Albers and Nobel Laureate scientist Edwin McMillan]
In this form of thinking, bringing together any opposites at all won't do. It matters very much which opposites are selected and how the janusian formulation is elaborated in a particular work.
In the artistic field, the creator chooses and develops those opposites and antitheses that most meaningfully crystallize and express personal as well as universal values, experiences and feelings. The scientist also selects and elaborates the context to some extent, but he has the specific task of determining which opposites derived from the world of natural events are significant at a particular point in the evolution and growth of theory and knowledge.
Albert Rothenberg, Creativity & Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead . . . his eyes are closed.
Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal;
bad artists deface what they take,
and good artists make it into something better, or at lest something different.
The good poet welds his theft into a whole feeling that is unique,
utterly different from that from which it was torn;
the bad poet throws it into something that has no cohesion.
T. S. Elliot, The Sacred Wood
If there is something to steal, I steal it!.
……. not I, but the wind that blows through me! A fine wind is blowing in the new direction of Time. If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me If only I am sensitive, subtle, of, delicate, a winged gift! If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed By the fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world Like a fine chisel, a wedge blade inserted…
D. H. Lawrence, Song of a Man Who Has Come Through (1930)
He who binds himself to joy Doth the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
Listen to your dreams - those are the sounds no one else can hear.
Nature does many things the way I do, but she hides them!
Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance.
M. C. Richards
The Artist and Practice
The Western idea of practice
is to acquire a skill. It is very much related to our work ethic, which
enjoins us to endure struggle or boredom now in return for future rewards.
The Eastern idea of practice, on the other hand, is to create the person, or
rather to actualize or reveal the complete person who is already there.
This is not practice for something, but complete practice,
which suffices unto itself. In Zen training they speak of sweeping the
floor, or eating, as practice. Walking as practice.
When we explode the artificial categories of exercise and real music, each tone we play is at once an exploration of technique and a full expression of spirit. No matter how expert we may become, we need to continually relearn how to play with the beginner's bow, beginners breath, beginner's body. Thus we recover the innocence, the curiosity, the desire that impelled us to play in the first place. Thus we discover the unity of practice and performance.
Not only is practice necessary to art, it is art.
Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Art and Life
The artist must practice his/her art in order to feel whole. The painter must paint, the musician must make music and the writer must write. As I claim my art to be writing, and as I write I have noticed I feel more together and calm. It is not as important that I write something sensational or a best seller, only that I get my butt in the chair and write. That seems to be all it takes to put me on track. Now that I am determined to call myself a writer I am going to put the writing in the place where it belongs, at the top of the list of things I do. It used to be that the laundry always came first with me. Since there is always “laundry” I have not realized how much I avoided writing and honing my gift by doing the daily routine chores. Now that I do stand awake I pledge to honor the artist within me, nourish it and give it the time it deserves. Instead of “After the laundry the ecstasy," my motto shall be “After the Ecstasy the Laundry.”
I am an artist true, a gifted writer. I claim my birthright.
May this day be bright and full of joy for you and for me.
Rembrandt van Rijn
The whole difference between construction and creation, is this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.
G. K. Chesterson
Today, like every
You need not do anything.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
When you start working everybody is in your studio- the past, your friend, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.
John Cage (thanks to Judy Kappeler)
There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.
We shall cease from exploration, And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot, Little Giddings (1941)
The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
We often talk about the Three B’s,
Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.
Vitality is the power of creating beyond oneself without losing oneself.
Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (1952)
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
Art should exhilarate, and throw down the walls of circumstance on every side, awakening in the beholder the same sense of universal relation and power which the work evinced in the artist, and its highest effect is to make new artists.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
To the rationally minded, the mental process of the intuitive appears to work backward. His conclusions are reached before his premises. This is not because the steps which connect the two have been omitted but because these steps are taken by the unconscious.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play of instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.
Things-in-Themselves, Will, Synchronicity and Art: An Essay
Schopenhauer thought that human beings are pre-programmed in that they are bound to perceive objects in the external world as existing in space and time, and as governed by causal relations. We are compelled to experience the world in this way; we cannot avoid doing so. But…the way we see objects and the relations between them may not correspond to the way those objects actually are….
....The limitations of our perceptual apparatus restrict our apperception of the world; the limitations of our cerebral apparatus restrict the ways we can think about it. But…even if our ingenuity enlarges our perceptual grasp, we can never transcend the limitations imposed by our concepts of space, time and causality. Schopenhauer therefore concluded that we could never perceive objects as noumena, or ‘things-in-themselves’ as Kant called them…. Things-in-themselves have their being in an underlying reality to which our categories of, space, time and causality do not apply.
…The underlying reality…must be one in which objects are not differentiated: in other words, a unity. For abolishing categories of space, time and causality necessarily makes it impossible to distinguish one object form another. Hence, Schopenhauer’s vision is that ultimate reality is a unity – the unus mundus of mediaeval philosophy which is beyond both our human categories of space time and causality and also beyond the Cartesian division into physical and mental.
…According to Schopenhauer, one type of experience brings us closer to the underlying noumenon than any other….We have a direct knowledge from inside our own bodies which is unlike the perception we have of anything else … this private, subjective knowledge of our own physical being and its movements. Per David Pears,
Our knowledge of our own agency is neither scientific not the result of any discursive operation of the intellect. It is direct, intuitive, inside knowledge of our own strivings, and gives us our only glimpse of the true nature of reality.
…This inner knowledge is the nearest we get to perception of the Will, the driving force or energy underlying everything of which individuals are but manifestations. Schopenhauer’s Will includes the impersonal as well as the personal; that is the Will refers to cosmic energy, the force that moves the planets or forms the stars, as well as the energy which activates human beings. Schopenhauer himself referred to Will as ‘endless striving’, and also as ‘the thing-in-itself proper’….
|Jung,… who admitted being deeply influenced by Schopenhauer … begins his autobiography by writing, “My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious.” This expresses Schopenhauer’s idea….The individual is one possible manifestation of an underlying force which is always seeking to realize itself in the world of phenomena, but which is antecedent to all phenomena Each bloom on a rose tree may be slightly different; but each is an expression of whatever inner force makes rose trees grow, flourish and put forth blossoms. Jung believed there was only one fundamental striving: the striving after one’s own being. Jung also believed that we have partial, occasional access to this underlying reality outside space and time …through “synchronicity” : that is, meaningful coincidence in time which is outside our habitual categories of space and causality.|
Jung gives as an example Swedensbourg’s vision of a fire which arose in him at the same time as an actual fire was raging in Stockholm:
We must assume that there was a lowering of the threshold of consciousness which gave him access to ‘absolute knowledge.’ The fire in Stockholm was, in a sense, burning in him too. For the unconscious psyche space and time seem to be relative; that is to say, knowledge finds itself in a space-time continuum in which space is no longer space, nor time time.
Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind, The Innermost Nature of Being, pp. 128-34 (1992)
for let the form of an object be what it may -
light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.
when something doesn't seem to be beautiful
is why do I think it's not beautiful.
And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion
Sir Francis Bacon
Art is not the application
of a canon of beauty
If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
Vincent Van Gogh
The artist one day falls through a hole in the brambles, and from that moment he is following the dark rapids of an underground river which may sometimes flow so near to the surface that the laughing picnic parties are heard above. Cyril Connolly
The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
I don't think there's any artist of any value who doesn't doubt what they're doing.
Francis Ford Coppola
Success is dangerous.
One begins to copy oneself,
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
To me, style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body— both go together, they can’t be separated.
Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.
Unless you have been thoroughly drenched in perspiration you cannot expect to see a palace of pearls on a blade of grass.
The Blue Cliff Record
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Every good painter paints what he is.
Beauty in art is often nothing but ugliness subdued.
Jean Rostand Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
The writer, when he is also an artist, is someone who admits what others don't dare reveal.
The waste basket is the writer's best friend.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
A little while
ago I wrote that though I shall die, nothing else will. And I must make my
They didn't like the cast. They didn't like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. Francis Ford Coppola, on the shooting of his classic film, The Godfather
It just got too big to be manageable. There was a switch from where you're observing the world to where the world is observing you.
Mark Knopfler, on the mega-stardom of Dire Straits in the 1980s.