Stark Raving Art: Creativity And How We Might Be Crazy

By November 22, 2015



Creativity is one of those things, isn’t it? One of those wake-you-up-at-4am, low-paying, labour-intensive little things. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why are we such gluttons for punishment? Why don’t we all just work in admin or retail?

Analysis of what creativity might be has unearthed some curious theories. Psychoanalysts say that creativity is a reaction to difficult circumstances and/ or repressed emotions. Others think that in order to be creative some form of mental illness must be present. I’ve come across the Creative Theory of Psychoticism, which goes a step further to say that all creative people have a disposition for psychotic tendencies.

Striking indeed, yet creativity has been associated with ‘madness’ since ancient history.
I’ve always viewed creativity in line with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states humans have some basic needs in order to thrive (psychological, safety, belonging, esteem, self-actualization). When we acquire each of these we “transcend” and are therefore capable of creativity.

Now, with the rise of community art, art therapy, homeless art projects to name but a few, supports the glaring fact that this process is not sequential. Meaningful art can come from anyone, but to say that you can only make valuable art if you’ve followed this path is of course infantile. (Value here meaning artistic and emotional value, rather than economic or financial, which is a whole different article and conversation in itself.)

This makes me think of a quote from journalist and critic Chuck Klosterman: “The soul is a circle.” We can keep ourselves perpetually sustained on whichever path we find ourselves, but to breach creativity makes the circle more of a spiral, reaching upward and out of this hierarchy and transgressing our own consciousness and tapping into hierarchy’s and therefore consciousness’s of others, a world mind–God? This process can be supported by many spiritual practices that depict spirals and patterns in the soul, such as chakra’s and chi.

Perhaps it is madness to labour this change, to want to break out of our own closed circuits. Historically, anything outside the understanding or comfort of the vox populi (and those controlling it) was deemed madness. However, when it comes to creativity, it might not be too far from the truth.

It’s called cognitive disinhibition and it’s defined by Harvard psychologist Shelly Carson as “the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or survival”. It’s an information filter, and it’s been found consistently to be less effective in people with mental health concerns, or creatives.

Cognitive disinhibition “allows for more information to come in that seems immediately beneficial”. Isn’t that what a really stonking good idea feels like? Like the most important thing you can know at that moment. Founder of Atari Inc., Nolan Bushnell, summarises nicely: “Everyone who has taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it that makes a difference.”

I would labour to say that they who leave the shower and do something about it are creative, because they see the ideas value and wish to realise it physically.

We compromise routines and often necessity to accommodate creativity. I wrote the first draft of this just after waking up at 2pm Monday afternoon. I overslept due to writing until 4am, unable to do much else. This is not a rare occurrence. Clearly, this information, these ideas, are so important I’d rather play alphabet alchemy than get adequate sleep or rise at a reasonable hour. (Perhaps creativity itself is the addiction?)

Returning to the Ancient world, to Rome where they believed tutelary gods called genii guided individuals, and individuals who excelled had (note not ‘were’) genius. You become a vehicle for otherworldly, possibly divine creations. This makes you free of any accountability or praise because the voices told you to do it, to put it crudely.

However, I find it betrays the creative process on the whole. You can’t really revise or analyse the work of a God, can you? Should you lest incite heresy from your genii? Whatever falls out should be considered perfect, divine as it is. Quite different to us making art, which is a graft, a life-long learning curve.

Not completely unrelated is the concept of talent, although how we talk about talent is something we’re born with, that we nurture and exercise. This is all very glorious and satisfying, except for when it comes with a walking, talking, kicking and screaming ego. For me creativity is when objective and subjective combine, when we meet the world.

Other definitions of creativity I’ve come across tend towards extremes. From the underwhelming–“relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something” (Oxford English Dictionary)–to others more grandiose (but none the less romantic)–“Creativity is intelligence having fun” (Albert Einstein). Although both describe they fall short of pinning down an essence or, more accurately, they only uphold one element of creativity.

I’ve heard some interesting responses to people trying to define their creativity: “It wants what it wants.”, “Sexy and a bit like bacon.”, “Me, just stripped naked to the bone and then recycled.”, “Wouldn’t defining [my] creativity kind of be like restricting it at the same time?”, “It defines me.”

To me, creativity is a glass of milk. Milk because it resembles most ambrosia (Ancient God food, not people custard). In creating, we pour out a bit, then a bit more, and a bit more. After so much expending, speaking, putting out into the world, you find yourself empty. This is not the point of crisis so many people experience it as; no writers block or lack of inspiration. It is the moment when the artist must be silent. You can’t expect to constantly send out. All batteries need recharging. So a quick reminder to all fellow creatives: when necessary, be silent, observe, take in. Don’t feel pressured to give all the time. Be a bit selfish and let the glass fill.