Thursday, May 30, 2019

Two Mysteries

I've been discussing the nature of creativity elsewhere. As happens so often it devolved pretty quickly in to "no, no, that's not really creativity, creativity is... " in response to pretty much anything I said. Humans, at least some of us, have a peculiar desire to defend the borders of the unknown which surround creativity.

Creativity is indeed a mystery, and competing with the aforementioned reflex, we have the Enlightenment, or if you prefer Modernist, notion that for all things we can figure it out, if we only apply our big, fat, brains. And, to some degree we have sorted out creativity. We understand, in sort of broad strokes, the neurology. Not, you know, really, but we know which bits of the brain light up when someone's creative juices are flowing. And, more importantly, we have teachable strategies for encouraging those moments, for making ourselves as it were, open to the muse.

So in a way, creativity is still a mystery, an unknown wrapped in the known. The idea that we might some day understand the brain enough to truly understand it at its root, in an essential and complete way, is kind of depressing. But I am delighted to know some ways to welcome the muse. She's nice, and I like her.

That is one mystery.

The creative production of Art is a fascinating process, in many ways I suppose. The way it's fascinating me today is this: the creative impulse is profoundly internal. These sections of your brain light up, ideas churn, silently, invisibly, and entirely inside your own head, the answer emerges. In that instant, only you and maybe God know the answer.

But Art, successful Art, is a cultural construct. If your creative impulse has indeed produced a good answer, that answer is culturally specific. It's specific to here, and to now, and yet it was produced by, one supposes, the underlying biology of your brain which, one supposes, is basically a lot like the brain of a Russian from 1914, or a Vietnamese brain from 257BC.

This is the second mystery.

We live in our society, swimming in the cultural constructs of it. Presumably, we consume these things. We see a Monet, we see a gas station, we rub our dog's tummy, all these things are here, now, in this place and time. Our mind, I guess, takes these things into itself and does we know not entirely what with them.

The creative impusle occurs, if we are lucky, and if we have the skill we execute it, and make something. Something of the constant mystery of our humanness, but also something of the culture in which we live and eat and breathe. If we are lucky, others see our work, touch it, taste it, however that is, and it becomes something to them as well.

I find this continuous interplay between the underlying more-or-less constant human object, you, or me, and the malleable, temporal, tentative, fluctuating, culture in which it resides to be a wonderous and fascinating thing. Imagine, if you will, that you'd been adopted by a nice Chinese couple, or a Mexican family. You would still be you, in many essential ways, but the art you make, the songs you write, the dances you dance, they might all be completely different and yet still, somehow, you.

How amazeballs is that?


  1. Hmm.. Good article. Your ideas on the interplay are strong. There is more to the neurology. See Chase, Chance and Creativity.

  2. And, what makes you believe that we understand the neurology? Light up is blood flow on an fNRI. That's a long way from understanding the consciousness and subconscious process we label creativity.