For centuries, philosophers have made mention of a “hidden reality” and then speculated as to its nature and how one might dispel illusion and bring what is hidden within sight. Those given to metaphysical speculation posit another world reached by passing through a portal. We have all seen the movies and television series inspired by the old tales of magical caves or fairy rings that, once entered, transport one to another place not of this Earth. Spiritual types speak of supernatural beings inhabiting spirit worlds “beyond” our normal ken. The belief gave rise to some of the world’s largest religions.

Hermann Hesse reading a book

Hermann Hesse used simple doors to symbolize the entrance to hidden realities in his controversial novel, Steppenwolf. (Photo: Wikimedia)

The idea of a hidden reality or an unseen place where spirits dwell is so prevalent in human cultures that one must assume it has some basis in human psychology.

The arts are also a place where these beliefs come into play. Artists of all kinds are skilled at sensing subtle shades of difference or meaning that others seem to miss. Often, they then believe they have detected a hidden reality and feel the need to share their insight by making it visible. The works of art these creators produce are an attempt to communicate to others the clues that reveal the subtle hidden reality the more sensitive artist has detected.

Writers especially have used such philosophical or spiritual ideas in their works. For writers, the idea of a hidden reality has been especially attractive and fruitful. The simple door is a common image used to symbolize the entry to another reality, one that Hermann Hesse employed to powerful effect in his famous novel, Steppenwolf. His protagonist, Harry Haller, enters no fewer than five magical doors each of which brings him to a strange reality related to various aspects of his troubled life.

Virginia Woolf spoke of her “yearning towards the numinous.” The use of the term “numinous” reveals her belief that what she sensed – and found alluring – was beyond the mundane world in which she lived. Mystical feeling is common among creators largely due to their heavy reliance on the mysterious associative (non-linear) thinking faculty and their fondness for particular nuanced feeling tones. The subtle moods they long to experience are often unconscious and can acquire a numinous aspect by being tantalizingly just out of reach.

Mystical feeling in an artist sets up a powerful creative polarity, since it is also true that artists want to reveal, want to “see” the hidden reality, experience it, revel in it even, and then share it with others through their art. This powerful urge to “show and tell” prevents them from simply worshipping dimly sensed “mysteries.” They prefer to explore and experience, prefer to know the truth, prefer to capture the found truth and embody it in a work of art.

The key point here is that artists differ from mystics and the religious in a vitally important way. Artists are by trade more concrete. Abstractions do not cut it with them. They feel the need to embody the data of experience in an object such as a statue, a painting, a poem, or a novel. Even musical compositions are an attempt to objectify experience: the composer wants you to hear what he felt. Furthermore, the creator not only wants to objectify his subjective experience and share it with others; he wants what he has created to last.

We can express what the artist does in terms that are more modern. The artist embodying his insights and experience in some revealing physical form is making fractals of the cosmos.

11 thoughts on “Creative People Explore “Hidden Realities”

  1. Very nice. I spent years exploring the insights of the explorers and finally decided that the real “hidden realities” are in plain sight for anyone with the right brain “structures.” This is particularly interesting to me right now, because just a few days ago, I had reason to review some of the information about associative thinking. In fact, I started a post about it, which I might get around to finishing one of these days.

    Are you familiar with the work of Dean Keith Simonton? He has an extensive discussion of associative thinking in his book, The Origins of Genius.

  2. Glad you liked the post, Catana. It’s good that you mention Simonton’s book. I bought a copy a while back and have yet to read it. Learning about blogging has shot my usual steady reading habit to pieces and I have only recently begun to reassemble it. I have added the book to my “read a.s.a.p.” list. I would be interested to read your post on associative thinking.

  3. Hope you enjoy the Simonton book. There was a time when I was planning to write a book on intellectual giftedness, and he contributed quite a bit to my thinking.

  4. God, this is awesome. Very, very well written. First off: “Virginia Woolf spoke of her “yearning towards the numinous.” <–this is exactly why I write. I couldn't have expressed it any more clearly. Second point: "Artists are by trade more concrete." again, brilliant. I never considered it before, but it's absolutely the truth. I guess we are lucky to have been born with a more robust sense of curiosity, right?

  5. Interesting post Thomas. The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas is a curious “hidden reality” novel you might like.

  6. Thanks for the generous praise, Adam. It is much appreciated. I think many writers share Woolf’s yearning. Artists often make several attempts to represent a particular subtle insight before they are satisfied they have got it just right. A special aspect of art is the way artists learn as they go. The first vague intimations are firmed up and fleshed out as the work progresses towards an ever more clear and definite form. Curiosity certainly plays a vital role. Another powerful motivator is the desire to re-experience certain nuanced feeling tones. In other words, there is an emotional component. Writers often work in a particular genre because it affords the best opportunity for recreating some mood that deeply impressed them when they were very young.

  7. Max, I’ve just checked out Scarlett Thomas’ book and it does indeed look interesting. Thanks for the “heads up” on this one. As a lover of speculative fiction I’m always on the lookout for the more sophisticated writers.

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