A phrase I wrote a while ago seems to have hooked into the memory of if. “Creativity can take care of itself.” Jonathon Delacour wrote a long time ago about his experience, distinctly parallel to mine, of letting go of “fine-art” aspirations in order to create the most satisfying work of his career. The whole enterprise seems rather Zen to me, but I think I’ve figured out why I think the conscious attempt to be creative is doomed to failure. Aphorisms are always drastic oversimplifications. It’s a philosophical thing, that works for me but may not be well suited to others. Pardon the religious stuff involved, but there is no other vocabulary available to express it clearly.

There are different types of imagination. I tend to think of it along the lines of Coleridge’s theories. In his view, imagination is the force that creates our world. There is a primary imagination, which actively reaches out from our consciousness toward God. The zone of contact, between human consciousness and god consciousness is the world as we perceive it. One implicit assumption that can be drawn from this is that the force of human will and the force of God’s will are at least on some level, balanced. Otherwise, our commonplace perceptions would be unstable and crushed by the force of God. This also echoes Blake’s proposal that “God became as we are so that we might be as he is.”

Also implicit to this is the concept of an internal/external relation. The world is a synthesis of both an internal and external will. Attempting to divide artistic products, Coleridge offered the thesis that creativity comes from a secondary form of imagination, which is unstable as it penetrates the mysteries of that external will, recombining the human consciousness with God’s consciousness in new ways. Note that this is not idealism, a search for a perfect form that lies outside human understanding, but a recombination into new creative forms. Distinctly separate from this endeavor is what Coleridge called fancy, the recombination of internal states to form amusing patterns. While useful, it was not what Coleridge named imagination.

Accepting the difference between fancy and imagination means accepting that imagination must reach beyond the self in order to exist. By definition, what is external cannot be found by soul-searching. No matter how hard you look at yourself, you will not find true creativity there— only fancy. Yes, you can understand yourself better. Yes, you can learn how to create fanciful recombinations. But true creativity cannot be narcissistic; it has to reach outside itself. Having left yourself, there is no map to guide you. If you take the religious point of view, there must be an implicit faith in the force coming from the other direction, outside, to create that new synthesis which creates, rather than restates an image of yourself. You’ve got to quit screwing around with the fanciful, narcissistic attitude of selfish creation in order to become creative.

I am not religious. But I also do not believe that there is anything inherently imaginative to be gained by “soul-searching.” I believe that truly imaginative work comes from the recombination of what is inside, with what is outside (whatever that might be). You’ve got to let go of your self-important, fanciful (not imaginative) tendencies in order to create anything that matters. I believe that if you know yourself well, this aids you in discerning what comes from where. You have to take care of yourself, because it is the only variable you have control over. Creativity is the synthesis of the internal and the external, and the external takes care of itself.

But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

1 thought on “Creativity”

  1. I’d certainly agree with you and Jonathon that consciously attempting to be “creative” will most likely end up a disaster. I have a large number of short stories and poems written in college that will attest to the truth of that statement.
    I would question, though, whether “soul-searching” is unable to be a source of creativity. On the contrary, I would suggest that soul-searching lies at the very heart of creativity.
    We do not have to look at the outside world; we cannot prevent the outside world from impinging on our inner world.
    All we can do to control the effects of the outer world is to deal with the inner world. That’s where the real edge between the outer world and the self is to be found. There is where we find the conflicts that tell us something is truly important, if not momentous.
    Those things that “touch our heart” are also likely to touch the hearts of others. Working out our inner relationship to the world, whether through writing or sculpture, seems to me to be the very heart of creativity.
    But on the other, that might just be the INTP in me talking.

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