The Origin of High Quality Creativity

In an earlier post on this topic, I stated that artists (of all kinds) develop their artistic vision by “examining and exploring the implications and ramifications of their personal vision of existence. In other words, they explore their philosophy of life.” The most powerful elements of a personal vision of existence or philosophy of life are the product of the creative person’s unique set of emotionally important ideas, which make up the self. High quality creativity springs from the struggle to attain self-knowledge and authenticity. Great literature, poetry, painting, and sculpture tells us something about life as the artist sees and experiences it. By recognizing, and then shining a light on, the archetypal aspects of their vision and their experience, artists include the illuminating sense of the universal in their work.

Writing Desk by Olga Rozanova (cubism)

High level creators learn how to combine their own worldview with the process of self-discovery to develop their unique artistic vision. (image: wikipaintings)

The Creator’s Vision

The process quite literally means that great artists build their most basic vision directly from their own belief system. To do this well, the creator needs true self-knowledge, so art and self-discovery must go hand in glove. This dual aspect of art, the outward expression of inner exploration is what makes it so remarkably appealing to certain kinds of people. As one might expect, early output is less impressive, but the work gains power and focus as the artist becomes more self-aware. Character plays a role here. To begin with, most artists are unusually aware – and accepting – of their innermost thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Virginia Woolf provides a striking example of how growth of artistic vision parallels a lengthy process of self-discovery. Her famous “moments of being” include what creativity researchers call nuanced themes, a set of subtle moods or feeling tones that the artist especially prizes. Woolf made impressive use of her precious assortment of moody moments in her novels.

Developing versus Conceptualizing

Notice that I have presented these ideas by talking about discovering and expressing, but said nothing about thinking or conceptualizing. It is important to differentiate between conceptualizing one’s emotionally important ideas, nuanced themes, or experiences on the one hand and developing them on the other.

Conceptualization is an abstract mental process that sorts, strips down, condenses, and simplifies the “data” (in this case experience, ideas, memories, sensations, moods, etc.) that has provided the raw material. Thinkers process the “data” and then take the final summaries of simplifications or distillations and organize them as a body of theoretical knowledge. The objective is to reveal and present the underlying principles. Artists very obviously shun these cerebral operations in favour of a direct, sensual, and concrete approach. Deploying allusive associative thinking, they develop their “data” in a particular form of art.

Developing the “data” leaves it intact while encapsulating or embodying it in a work of art, a work that somehow contrives to recreate important elements of the artist’s experience in the person encountering it. Ideally, by way of image, metaphor, allusion, and association, it should reveal the universal aspects of the artist’s experience as well as the personal. We look to abstract conceptualizations to simplify our experiences and make tidy intellectual sense of them. We look to art for so much more. With art, we want literally to share the artist’s experience, feelings, and worldview and thereby enrich our own lives in complex ways. It is at this concrete sensual level that we enjoy emotional fulfillment and that deep satisfying sense of intuitive recognition of meaning. Artists develop their unique vision by expanding and sharing their worldview and self-knowledge for the benefit of us all.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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