Fueled and spurred on by creativity, the magician gives birth to the work of art. Thoughts of creativity bring pictures to mind of a magician onstage in a Shakespearean play.
Listen! When theatre lights darken, strike the drum, bring on the music, drama and song! We are enchanted and charmed in a magical, mystical realm.
Creativity—is a happy, mysterious force. But where does it come from?
Attempts to describe it in words fail us. We are lost because it is magic and words do not suffice to express its transcendent force. If we try, it simply evaporates like dew in the morning sunlight!
But even though we may struggle with words and thoughts, Shakespeare does an admirable job with his muse of fire in expressing the swell of the creative spirit.
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
(Henry V, Act 1, Scene 1.)
Incredulous and frustrated, we demand the magician explain his tricks. But where does that get us? Not very far. Probably we get just more tricks.
Rational thought and analysis belong to a different world. If we subject this mysterious process of creativity to rigorous, rational testing, we won’t learn much and we might just kill off the creation.
The philosopher, Alan Watts, has much to say about creativity. But no matter if we can’t pin the thing down! According to him, it is the one subject on earth we should never be concerned about. It’s an instinctive force which will never die out. Listen to this video. https://youtu.be/fYYd8ldhhi0.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about the creative process. We should. After all, Alan Watts says, it’s fun and I agree.
Unfortunately I don’t paint, draw or sculpt. Neither do I play the piano, sing or tap dance. But I love the creative arts so much that I write about art and artists in novels and blogs. You’ll want to meet Alexander Wainwright in The Trilogy of Remembrance.
But first, let me introduce you to some of my own most reliable muses, which have been with me for a very long time.
Many years ago, I was introduced to Joseph Campbell’s writings and also Carl Jung’s through a Canadian author, Robertson Davies, who penned two volumes of essays [Happy Alchemy and the Merry Heart]. One essay in particular about Jung caught my eye and sent me off to read him and the mythologist, Joseph Campbell.
Since then, I’ve been a student all of them. And they have provided me with inspiration and plenty of food for thought. Their writings raise numerous questions such as,
- Just what is CREATIVITY?
- Is a SPIRITUAL CONNECTION between artist and viewer/reader necessary for GREAT ART?
As soon as we begin to talk about creativity, it seems thousands more questions arise. For any artist, perhaps the most important question is how to court the elusive MUSE. It’s tricky! I’d like to suggest that there is an even more important question—Once the creative vibe is flowing, what do we do with it? To what should we aspire? Does the muse give us any clues?
But let’s start at the beginning with Freud and Jung and—what is CREATIVITY.
What did SIGMUND FREUD have to say?
Freud seemed to struggle with an understanding of it. When he did write about it, he struck a sour note. In fact, he seemed to conclude that it was a neurosis. Here are some quotes.
“A piece of creative writing, like a day-dream is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood.” Sigmund Freud
“In an attempt to resolve a conflict generated by unexpressed biological impulses, such that unfulfilled desires are the driving force of the imagination, and they fuel our dreams and daydreams.” Sigmund Freud
CARL JUNG thought creativity was an instinctive force buried within the unconscious psyche. For him, perhaps it was like a thunderstorm or a volcano—a force of nature. Sometimes, he referred to it as a living tree. If it hadn’t shown itself yet, he speculated, perhaps it had not yet grown strong enough to escape the unconscious forces, which buried it. It certainly wasn’t something that needed to be cured! Indeed, it should be nurtured. And so, he said…
When JOSEPH CAMPBELL spoke and wrote about creativity, he often talked of the SHAMAN. For him, the artist was a shaman and also sometimes a prophet.
What did he mean by “shaman”? I think he visualized a shaman as someone who seems to go between two worlds—the here and now and the elsewhere where we find the gods or the forces of nature and creativity.
The shaman is a doctor or healer. His or her purpose is to heal others psychologically and physically by interceding for humans with the gods and by communicating between the two realms.
Often, the shaman has been very ill or has been severely injured. She has been torn apart and somehow put back together. The shaman’s experience has taught him or her much. Something important has been learned. The shaman’s creative process has healed him or her.
When I think of a shaman, I think there must be a spiritual connection somewhere. If the artist is, according to Campbell, a shaman, perhaps he is trying to establish a spiritual connection with his viewer or reader. There is no doubt in my mind that every artist hopes to create a special relationship with the viewer. We all want the satisfaction of reaching out and touching our viewer. So let’s call it a spiritual connection.
What is this spiritual/special connection. Here’s an example.
If you absolutely fall in LOVE with one artist’s work, did you ever wonder why? Or, sometimes a work grabs you in a different way and you absolutely HATE it. Why? I think that in that case, the artist has succeeded at least in making a connection with you. On the other hand, what if something just leaves you dead COLD and all you can do is smile politely and turn away.
But to your surprise, your friend has exactly the opposite reaction to the art than you do. What’s going on? Are there no absolute standards? No doubt, there are aesthetic standards but does their application give the whole picture?
Suppose two friends visit a gallery together.
The first is a painting by MARC CHAGALL called the Birthday painted in 1915. This one I would absolutely love, but my friend just shrugs and turns away. Why can’t he see what I see—the lovely lyrical floating figures and the joyful colours? What a lovely portrayal of bliss! Chagall is the artist who spoke of having one foot securely fastened in the here and now world and the other exploring the unconscious. Without a doubt each and every painting by this artist has captured my soul.
What the hell is wrong with my friend?
Next we head for the Tate Modern Gallery in London to see a DAMIEN HIRST exhibition. This work is called Mother and Child Divided.
Yikes! Here I scratch my head. What message was the artist seeking to convey? The first vitrine contains the dead mother cow, cut in half and submerged in formaldehyde. The second contains the baby, also cut in half. As you walk around these sculptures, you can see the insides of each cow.
After my stomach stops churning, I immediately think of the pain of such a separation. How cruel it can be to not only separate mother and child, but also to starve them. Just look how skinny they look. Hirst said at one point that he was trying to capture the fragility of life. “Life’s like this, then it stops. Entropy always wins!”
With Hirst and many other conceptual artists, the whole point is to present an IDEA as opposed to expressing some emotion in a visually pleasing or perhaps disturbing way. Quite different from what Chagall is attempting!
I try to understand just what Hirst is doing. Clearly, he is expressing concern for the peremptory nature of life and death. I came across Hirst’s quoting of another artist, Bruce Nauman, with approval. “The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” To me this suggests Hirst is considering spirituality and transcendence.
Why is it that I love Chagall, whom my friend dislikes, while he sings praises of Hirst, whose work nearly repels me?
That very question was the starting point for my creation of two characters, both famous artists, in The Trilogy of Remembrance–three novels, The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing.
I was so fascinated with the differences between a representational or landscape artist and a conceptual artist, that I created two major characters for the Trilogy of Remembrance in order to explore the differences.
Let me introduce Alexander Wainwright, [visionary landscape artist] and Rinaldo [conceptual artist].
At the beginning of The Drawing Lesson, the first in the trilogy, I had Alexander win the Turner Prize awarded by the Tate Modern. Alex’s entry was The Hay Wagon, a realistic landscape painting. It is the stunning, numinous light which infuses his work that wins the prize for Alex. Rinaldo’s conceptual project, The Folly of War, was a ditch down the main gallery of the Tate Modern which had implements of war arranged on either side of the ditch. That was the greatest contrast I could imagine.
Conceptual art, of course, suggests that it is the IDEA that has value in a work meant to stimulate thought and argument. With Alex’s representational work, whether realistic, impressionistic, or abstract, he creates visual pleasure or aversion through emotion often expressed with his numinous light. Most easily stated? Head vs. Heart.
We could argue that my liking of Chagall and his of Hirst is simply based upon personal taste and aesthetics, but I’d like to suggest that it’s much deeper than that.
We all differ in our spiritual selves or natures. Obviously, it is an extremely personal matter. Likely it is unconscious, but each artist expresses his or her own spiritual self within the work.
And so, it either appeals to me or not depending on whether my spiritual self is in synch with the artist’s.
For me, conceptual art does not have the same direct appeal as a richly coloured Chagall. It is an idea appealing to the mind and the intellect, not the heart. I do not respond as intensely to the intellectual/idea. For me, the rich, emotional work of Chagall speaks far more powerfully. And so perhaps my friend is more receptive to appeals to the mind. When it comes right down to it, it sounds a lot like love and friendship.
At the risk of further messing with the magician, I’d like to write more about that spiritual connection and how an artist can form that connection with his viewer. Also, I’ll be thinking about what makes for GREAT ART. But that I will leave for the next blog post coming here soon!
Would you like to read the next related blog post In Pursuit of the Sublime?
Here’s the link http://maryemartintrilogies.com/in-pursuit-of-the-sublime/
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the recently released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Although all novels are available virtually anywhere online, you’ll find them easily at Amazon below in the carousels below.
You have to click first to see those carousels!