creativity blocks, metaphysics and individuality

in our last conversation about creativity, jeremy from PsyBlogs talks about the difference between “chaotic” and “ordered” creatives and then moves on to discuss creative blocks.

recently, i came across a doctoral thesis in divinity that talks about the connection between chaos, creativity and spirituality. kurt sander from northern kentucky university points out the important nature of “failure” among creatives. “we must acknowledge that the understanding of a composer’s identity is incomplete if one looks only at masterpieces.” he goes on to say that most creative blocks do not stem from a lack of ideas but from an inability to manifest those ideas. ideas are trapped in the creator’s mind and cannot come out.

according to sander, to make sense of creative chaos, one must find a way to say ‘no’ to individual ideas, “not only to expedite the compositional process, but also to maintain a work’s cohesiveness.”

how to do that? he quotes one of my favourite composers, john taveneran icon, who says, “we live in an age when man has lost belief not only in god, but also in himself. metaphysics has been completely split from the world of the imagination.”

sanders suggests, then, that the way out of chaos is to organize one’s creative process into “a quest for artistic perfection symbolizing the greater human quest for divine perfection.” sanders himself does that with the help of iconography, an ancient art form that de-emphasizes the individual creator’s ego and places art within the context of a greater good.

that is one point of view. let’s add another one – the great filmmaker fellini’s, as discussed by dr. john parris springer, an english professor and movie specialist. this point of view is also about chaos, creativity and creative blocks – but it takes a different, perhaps even the opposite tack. fellini solves his creative crisis by getting as intensely personal as he could possibly get.

fellini had struggled for several years developing ideas and working on a script for the famous film . there was intense pressure to make a film that would top la dolce vita, an international sensation when it was released in 1960. fellini was suffering from the filmmaker’s equivalent of writer’s block, uncertain of his purpose and hesitant to commit to a particular narrative or aesthetic plan for the film.

fellini’s solution was to make a film about a movie director who is riddled with uncertainty and doubt – a character in the same dilemma as fellini himself. thus, 8½ is extremely personal and psychological (which led to accusations of self-indulgence by his critics.)

in 8 1/2, one critic – a sort of alter ego – follows fellini (portrayed by the character of guido) throughout the film, constantly throwing intellectual cold water over the project. the critic’s final pessimistic speech to guido is a plea to abandon the project:

“such a monstrous presumption to think that others could benefit from the squalid catalogue of your mistakes.”

however, 8½ ends on an uplifting, redemptive note. while sitting in his car listening to the critic, guido experiences a sudden epiphany that permits him to achieve a renewed sense of artistic purpose and personal commitment to his wife and friends. guido’s final declaration is, “life is a celebration! let’s live it together!”

at first glance, these two points of view on the creative crisis are very different. one emphasises moving away from the ego or individual to the greater good. the other moves deeply into the individual.

in the end, however, both make me think of buddhism. for example, delving into process is something that is advocated by insight or vipassana meditation. pema chodron speaks very eloquently about that. go inside. get to know yourself, that feeling, intimately.

at the same time, buddhism teaches non-dualism. we are all one, and part of the cessation of suffering is to experience ourselves as more than our tiny little individuality.

buddhism is also very much about detaching from the chaos of our thoughts – thoughts, for example, of failure, self-criticism, pressure to perform, uncertainty and lack of direction, and move towards a groundedness in nothing but the exclamation, “let’s live, together!”

(image by mharrsch)

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