Artists must develop over time, and they do this by examining and exploring the implications and ramifications of their personal vision of existence. In other words, they explore their philosophy of life. When the artist combines this activity with their view of a particular branch of the arts, what emerges is their artistic vision; the artist’s preferred subject matter and style. The combination is sometimes so unique that the artist’s works, whatever they may be, are instantly recognizable.
Many creators hold their personal artistic vision with religious zeal. (Image: public domain)
Creative thinking requires the skilful blending of linear and non-linear thinking. In more commonly used language, this means we must combine logical thinking with associative thinking. Before we go on, let us be clear that associative thinking is not the same as intuition. Associative thinking brings related ideas and events together in imagination or memory in ways that are not necessarily logical. Association may link a red barn with a red car (because they are both red) even though there is no logical reason to connect them. The associative connection may not be rigorously logical, but it is definite and understandable. Intuition is more emotional, more vague, a mere feeling or inarticulate hunch.
Synergistic thinking makes a synthesis of linear and non-linear thinking. In other words, it blends logic and association. (Image: public domain)
Concepts, abstract or general ideas, are a veil that hides reality from our eyes. Without our knowing it, they create a powerful illusion. Anyone who unquestioningly accepts their society’s consensus worldview is suffering from cultural hypnosis. Most of us are affected. We sleepwalk through our lives never understanding that much of what we assume to be true simply is not. We are not even aware that concepts can have this effect.
Many of us sleepwalk through our lives in a muddled state of cultural hypnosis. (Image: public domain)
To dispel the illusion, we must peer past preconceived concepts at the raw data of experience. There is a hidden reality, but it is not on some astral plane or stashed in some mystical “beyond.” The hidden reality is all around us, firmly rooted in this world, yet invisible to eyes blinded by consensus notions of what we are seeing. The hunger that cries, “There must be more to life than this” is, in part, the hunger to experience what lies behind the obscuring veil of concepts. Many sense its presence, as indeed they must, but immediately fall into the very trap they need to escape. They conceptualize the nature of this hidden reality in bizarre and obscure ways, thus trading a consensual illusion for another, even more unrealistic, one.
Powerful artists infuse their work with a blend of deliberately chosen emotional themes, their own emotionally important ideas, and subtly distinguished shades of meaning. The great work always starts with the individual, yet manages to present universal aspects of life. Artists do this by looking for the universal elements of their own experience. They never lose sight of the simple fact that we are all human beings. What happens to one of us, in some specific way, has undoubtedly happened to others, in somewhat different ways. Artists suggest the underlying commonality and reveal the universal. In this way, they make the specific general, the individual universal.
Lighthouses and stars are examples of those images with a rich array of symbolic meanings favoured by writers, poets, and painters. (Image: public domain.)
Creative people are both more flexible and more selective in the way they think. (Image: public domain.)
Three factors make these creators stand out.
First, such people possess the ability to think profitably by a variety of means. That is, they have at their disposal a range of thinking techniques. There is a characteristic flexibility to their thinking not usually seen in ordinary life. In most cases, they did not consciously acquire this powerful set of thought tools. They picked them up unknowingly as they pursued one interest or another. Often they have explored a series of interests. The primary thinking tools are contradictions, comparisons, images, and metaphors.
Edmund Wilson, author of The Wound and the Bow, argued that suffering was the mother of creativity. But what if suffering and creativity are actually siblings? (Image: public domain.)
Some argue that creativity and genius spring from a profound sensitivity to subtle differences. Such sensitivity, such fine perception, makes possible deep and powerful art. However, it also leaves its possessor wide open to pain and damage from life’s rough and tumble course. The less sensitive miss the subtle insults, the small slights by omission, and the finer points of innuendo. The more sensitive and perceptive do not.
One is, therefore, tempted to speculate that creativity does not, as is so often assumed, come from being wounded or mad or riddled with polarities, ambivalences, and conflicts, but that these difficulties are simply another product of being sensitive. Collateral damage, as the military types would say. Inner torment is not the parent of creativity; it is its sibling.
Scientists believe the natural state of the human mind is chaos. Since it lacks innate order, something must happen to keep the mind in an orderly state. To put this in practical terms, it means that when people are alone, with nothing to do, their thoughts tend to become disordered and their moods negative. They suffer psychic entropy.
A little solitary time can be restful, but for most people, spending too much time alone allows a disordered mind which then generates negative moods.
The neuropsychologist George Miller said, “The mind survives by ingesting information.” When no information is available to keep it in an ordered state, the mind begins to lose control of attention (i.e. it begins to “wander”), at least temporarily. Most people instinctively understand this and deal with solitary time by taking up pastimes such as watching TV, reading, listening to music, thumbing through magazines, or surfing the net. They deliberately expose themselves to an external information source. What’s more, when faced with the prospect of solitary time away from home – with its habitual pursuits – they prepare by buying a magazine or a paperback book, or by taking their iPod or laptop with them.
Evolution recognizes that humans are a work in progress. We are not yet, and perhaps never will be, completely conscious. (Image: public domain.)
In spite of our fond beliefs to the contrary, we Homo sapiens are not yet a fully conscious species. Perhaps our need for sleep reflects this reality, for the old argument that we must slumber while our bodies repair themselves does not withstand the verifiable truth that there are those who get by on just thirty minutes each “night.” These alert folk also demolish the idea that sleep is necessary to facilitate integration of the day’s experiences.
I have kept a diary on and off for over twenty years. The other day, while glancing through some pages, I came across an unusual entry from November 16, 1997. At that time, Carl Jung’s ideas about the unconscious mind had taken over as my primary interest. His notions of archetypes, the anima / animus, and the collective unconscious intrigued me. I had begun to notice the little clues the unconscious always leaves for those who are paying attention.
On a still autumn evening I could hear withered leaves slithering to the ground. My unconscious mind began making associations… (Image: public domain.)
Some Christians believe that to be close to the unconscious is to be close to God. I am not religious, but I do understand why they might feel that way. In 1997, I was living in the country on a heavily wooded five-acre hillside lot. Young cottonwood trees surrounded the house. Placid deer grazed clover at my back door. Elusive cougars, following the deer herd, left huge paw prints on the driveway’s soft sandy edges. In that wilderness setting, one remarkably calm autumn evening in November, I experienced a particularly charming example of unconscious magic.
What is genius? There is no such thing in the usual usage of the word. Genius is a title we confer on those who do remarkable things in their field. It is like being knighted, made a Commander of the British Empire, or winning a lifetime achievement award. In a way similar to such honours, which persons are awarded the status of genius is largely a matter of circumstance.
Genius combines reason with imagination, a unity most easily seen in the visual arts, but also there in the ground-breaking work of scientists such as Albert Einstein. (Image: public domain.)
What we ultimately label as genius is the product of a highly evolved mind. We are not born with such minds. We acquire them through long effort. To become a genius one must pursue some line of enquiry, or some art, long enough and thoroughly enough to acquire a high degree of sophisticated knowledge. In turn, that accumulating knowledge generates increasingly powerful thinking about the enquiry or art. Creativity research has shown that the mind is self-organizing. The process of becoming skilled enough to earn the title “genius” happens without our conscious awareness.