Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What is Creativity - 6

The sensation of flow involves a sense of "otherness." When we're in flow, we're not the self we've become accustomed to. If we're writers, words seem to appear on the page "out of nowhere." If we're inventors, the idea for a new product seems to come to us "out of the blue." Not from inside us, but from some mysterious source outside us.

Little wonder then that, for millennia, both the arts and the sciences were thought to be divinely inspired. The first dances were probably physical attempts to connect with the gods of war, of rain, of fertility. In Greek mythology, the Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory). Hesiod lists nine Muses, each a goddess who was responsible for inspiring and protecting a different art or science. Terpsichore took care of dance; Urania had charge of astronomy.

In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Vitus became the patron saint of dance, St. Dominic the patron saint of astronomy. They were responsible for teaching dancers and astronomers and also for interceding with God on their behalf.

Today, writers, fine artists, fashion designers often speak of the necessity of a muse to inspire them, whether that muse is an actual person or a mystical being. Some speak of channeling spirit guides or angels. Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, one of the ten best-selling self-help books of all time, is based on engaging God, The Great Creator, in our creative process.

All of these attempts to explain creativity depend on a higher power, a being other than ourselves.

But what if the rain dance doesn't bring rain? What if the words that seemed to flow onto the page are deleted by an editor? What if the inspired product fails in the marketplace?

To be continued.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What is Creativity? - 5

I listened to a TED radio talk this morning, an amalgamation of TED talks that expanded on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the top of his need pyramid is self-actualization, for which they used bits of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's talk about "flow" - what Maslow called a "peak experience."

Both men describe the experience as losing one's sense of time and place, one's very sense of existence, in the pursuit of creation. Or of perfection.

In order to understand flow, Csíkszentmihályi first studied creative people - artists and scientists - then moved on to athletes and other peak performers, and then to assembly line workers and more ordinary occupations. He believes that thousands of hours of practice are necessary before anyone can experience flow.

I've not found this to be true. I've had beginning students who experienced flow. A decade or so ago, I called it "baring their souls" because that's how it felt to me, as an observer. They were visually transformed - they glowed. I lost any critical capacity as a teacher, was caught up in the moment myself. I have a beginning student now who has experienced flow three times. Each time he's amazed, talks about "losing a sense of time," about "losing myself in the music."

So what is flow? Is it the physiological sensation of creativity?

To be continued.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What is Creativity? - 4

I read this quote from Martha Graham last week: "There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest . . ."

Multi-Tony-winner Gwen Verdon said, in an interview, that she could remember only one performance in which everything went right.

A colleague of the opera singer and recitalist Elisabeth Schumann told me that Schumann said she'd had two perfect performances in her long career. She added that that was the best one could hope for.

Some of the great truths in life are paradoxes, and this is one of them. Creators are always trying to achieve perfection, knowing that they will almost certainly fail. How creators differ from others is in their thinking of failure as a challenge, not an impediment.

I knew a Ph.D. in chemistry who found he couldn't bear the life of a chemist, in which his days were filled with one failed experiment after another. He went into the IT field, where he could figure out how to make things work then and there. Not that they worked perfectly, but well enough to do the job while he thought about new ways to improve the technology.

To achieve perfection can be inimical to art. If a painting were perfect, what could one say about it? My own definition of great art is that it can be re-interpreted over and over, that one can find new meaning whenever one revisits a painting or rereads a book or hears a Chopin etude again. I never teach a song or aria without finding something new in it. I Anna Karenina for the second time a few years ago, and it was a completely different book than the one I'd first read. And how come I had to wait until midlife to discover how funny Jane Austen is?

So, is creativity a drive? Unlike the hunger drive, when does creativity result in satisfaction?

To be continued.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Is Creativity? - 3

I've been thinking all week about the "why" of creativity. Then this morning the April issue of Writing and Wellness arrived in my inbox this morning with the question, "Why do we write?" and no answer.

Is creativity an inherent drive, like hunger? Unlike hunger, creativity isn't necessary for individual survival.

Is creativity connected to our pursuit of happiness? Pleasure vs. pain?

When I was writing my first book, Clues to American Dance (Starrhill Press, 1993), I spent an entire day trying to convey, in words, the essence of Eliot Feld's ballet, "Ion." I finally created a sentence that did it. I danced around my study, couldn't wait for my partner to come home so I could read it to him. I was euphoric. When my manuscript came back from the editor, she had written, in red ink, "What does this mean?" next to my perfect sentence. In my son Tim's current ad campaign for GE, "Invention Donkey," a character has an idea for an invention, but then says, "That's hard work. Can't someone else do it?" Every performer experiences fear before walking on stage and moments of panic during the performance when someone flubs a line, the telephone doesn't ring, the trapdoor doesn't open.

Humiliation, hard work, fear. Not a prescription for happiness.

So what is creativity?

To be continued.