WHAT IS CREATIVITY?
Dr. Patricia Daly-Lipe
What is creativity? To find out, we can pursue two avenues. On the one hand, we can follow a systematic, methodical mode of rational thought. On the other hand, the search can be approached irrationally or non-logically, a non-linear mode of thought.
On the rational side, we begin with words. To form a description of creativity, we need a vocabulary. Or do we? Here, the right brain (the non-rational side) kicks in and challenges the left's (or rational side's) attempt at analysis. Is part of the essence of creativity beyond definition? If this is the case, can we think (and thus experience creativity) without words?
Are language and the naming of things equivalent to thinking? According to Webster, to think means "to have the mind occupied on some subject; to judge; to intend; to imagine, to consider" and "to believe." Can we imagine without imaging something? Can we believe without believing something? Prior to naming things, is man thinking?
Thinking involves knowing, and what follows is the possibility that knowing does not need an image. Perhaps to know requires that we recognize how much we do not know. To paraphrase St. Thomas: "The more that I know, the more I know how little I know." Etymology or the study of the derivation of words can assist and enhance our search for the origin of thought. The word "recognize," for example, comes from "re" (again) andcognosere (Latin, meaning 'to know'). Thus, if we recognize something, it is because we knew it before. But when did we begin to know? And, therefore, when did we begin to think, since thinking and knowing are mutually supporting? Again, we look at words. How do we "know," understand, and "recognize" (know again) the following words: love, hate, envy? These are words, but they aren't objects; they cannot be visualized. They come from within. These are called emotions. Our primitive ancestors probably anthropomorphized word pictures to express feelings; adjectives came later.
Metaphor pairs two images thrown into relief but intact, each unto itself. There is a definite psychological mechanism used in the processing of a metaphor. "Metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man," wrote Jose Ortega Gassetin in 1948. For Ortega, life was an intense dialogue between oneself and one's environment. "Things are not me and I am not things: we are mutually transcendent, but both are immanent in thatabsolute coexistence, which is life." (Unas lecciones de metafisica, (1966) "Yo soy yo y mi circumstancia—I am I and my circumstances." Metaphor transcends the obvious and the visual; it translates man's relation to his environment on another level—a "transcendent," unique, or creative level.
Another linguistic aspect of creativity might be observed in Descartes' definition of the essence of man: "Je pense, donc je suis" (I think; therefore, I am) which occurs in his Discourse on Method (1637). Philosophical thought expresses both the potential and the limitations of human knowledge. It demands that we attempt to think beyond reality.
But how did man jump from naming names to 'understanding' them, from depicting observed images on the walls of a cave to developing philosophical insight? The answer, I believe, occurred when we became conscious of the difference between us and other; when we understood that we were 'seeing' this or that and we were somehow involved with what was "out there." Could it be that our awareness of ourselves in the world as other than the objects came before words? If so, the words, even the painted images, followed thought. And if this is so, thought comes before words. Man can think without words. I am; therefore, I think. So, the depiction of what we observed and the development of a language to express our relationship with the observed were preceded by something beyond words.
The root of the word imagination, is image. To imagine something in the mind's eye, we must have seen it in the "outside" world. The object is on the outside; the thought of the object is on the inside. However, the two sides are not separate. Sensations follow the same logic. We can feel/hear/see/smell; there is no hearing without sound, no sense-perception without an object to provoke it. Again, it is a question of the person knowing that he knows, being aware that he is aware. First there is the thought and then there is the thing. The inevitable question follows: If there were no thought of it, would the object not be there? Is an object/sensation a thing unto itself without a person's perception of it? Does thought exist before words?
Science can contribute facts; however, the philosopher (from Latin, philos, meaning "loving," and Sophos, meaning "wise") in his wide intellectual pursuit knows no boundaries.
The word 'create' means to bring forth something new as an artistic or intellectual invention. The moment preceding the act of spontaneous creativity has been described many ways. Dancer Isadora Duncan called it a "state of complete suspense." This non-verbal excitement, dreamlike, vague, and ambiguous is also experienced in the other arts: painting, writing, music, and sculpting. Author and poet Stephen Spender expressed it succinctly and pointedly as "a dim cloud of an idea, which I feel must be condensed into a shower of words." In painting, I have often experienced what Cezanne described as "an iridescent chaos" when the painting and I compete for dominance. Paint stroke by paint stroke, the colors sit up on the canvas, and the adventure begins as I attempt to come to an agreement (or image) while the painting seems to have a mind of its own. This sounds like nonsense, but for me it sets in motion my subconscious. Mesmerized, I watch as something new manifests itself on the canvas before my bewildered eyes. The same happens in creative writing, when the words take over and I am amazed.
But it is the art of music that represents a plane of consciousness beyond form and epitomizes creativity at its most abstract and pure state. In its acoustical and physical manifestation, music is imbued with mathematics. Pythagoras (c. 582 B.C. - 497 B.C.) was considered an early "scientist" and was thought to be the originator of the theory of harmonics. Fascinated with numbers and their manifestations as chords, Pythagoras is supposed to have "cured" his ailing disciples by playing music. In ancient times, music was inseparable from science mainly because of its source, mathematics. Recent studies have shown that the music of Mozart strengthens the neural connections that underline mathematical thought. So, the ancients were on to something after all. The etymology of "mathematics" is from the Greek mathema, meaning what is learned. Perhaps this should convince us of music as a source of creativity outside of the visible but well within the norm of analysis?
Digging into the consciousness, letting loose associations and the confines of sequential constraints and expressing an ah-ha moment or creative vision is not confined to the artist. Were it not for the free ranging of his imagination, Einstein could never have formulated his laws of relativity. It was in a dream, he said, that he "discovered" the basis of his insight into relativity. "Inspiration," he wrote, "is more important than knowledge." The free-roaming mind allows the scientist to "discover" things he surely would miss if he were locked into pure rationality.
To summarize, "creativity" may be viewed in this new age of fiber optics and cyberspace as an oddity, half-feared and half-distrusted but surreptitiously peeking its head out, demanding attention. The sixth sense needs to be heeded. Perhaps that is the most important function, the goal of the artist, to "transport the mind in experience past the guardians—desire and fear—to the...rapture of seeing in a single hair 'a thousand golden lions' (Joseph Campbell). As Alfred North Whitehead concluded,
"Nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process." And equally, understanding creativity is itself a "process." Answers are not required!