On the subject of creativity my soapbox is never far away. This post outlines my observations – as an ancient maker and educator – rounding them out with quotes from the person whose insights had the greatest influence on the unfolding of my via creativa – physicist David Bohm.
It started out as a simple introduction to a new page on the site, David Bohm: On Creativity, a talk Bohm gave in 1967 to the Architects’ Association in London, but took on a life of its own. As these things do. The quotes in the post are from Bohm’s talk, with the exception of the last, which is from Bohm’s thought-provoking book Science, Order and Creativity, written with F. David Peat. The artworks are by British environmental artist Chris Drury – a creative mind that never ceases to amaze me. (See notes below.)
Chris Drury, Landscapes of the Heart
Echocardiogram monoprinted onto a bowl woven from watercolor paper and maps of the Pyrenees.
85 x 60 cm. Collection Conquest Hospital.
A conversation between David Bohm and myself over lunch at Brockwood Park School turned my approach to and understanding of creativity on its head.
David knew that my role at the school was as a teacher of art and design, and that I was concerned the demands of producing work that would pass exams might be detrimental to my students’ innate creativity. I asked him what they needed to know about creativity. He replied, “Nothing. They only need to understand what sabotages it.”
It’s ironic that the so-called information age has brought so much misinformation along with it. In the euphoric enthusiasm for instant-access knowledge, it seems we missed the warnings (if there were any) that much of the information available to us would be inaccurate, and that the one tool guaranteed capable of sorting the fake from the true – a creative mind – would itself be shrouded in misinformation. Here are a few prevalent notions about creativity that rattle my cage.
Everyone knows what creativity is.
Really? Bohm opens his essay On Creativity by saying that in his view it is something that it is impossible to define in words. The most we can say about it is that it appears to involve the emergence of some idea or information previously entirely unknown, and is typically accompanied by somatic and psychological sensations of harmony, rightness and wholeness. Creativity can’t be found or measured. Like the God concept, it’s a mystery so prevalent that it’s stopped being a mystery. Some folk say one can only know ‘God’ by its absence; I’d say the same about creativity. We know when we are suffering the ache of separation from the harmony, beauty and wholeness that are the hallmarks of a creative mind. When we aren’t, there’s no one broadcasting; we are seamlessly intimate with/as THAT. The blessing is that even when frustrated that we’ll never know what creativity is, and can’t manipulate or manage it in any way, we can remember what it feels like, because we were all kids, once upon a time, whole-heartedly playing, exploring, learning. With no agenda, no purpose. Just for the sake of it.
The creative state of mind … is, first of all, one whose interest in what is being done is wholehearted and total, like that of a young child. With this spirit, it is always open to learning what is new, to perceiving new differences and new similarities, leading to new orders and structures, rather than always tending to impose familiar orders and structures in the field of what is seen.
Only this kind of whole-hearted interest will give the mind the energy needed to see what is new and different, especially when the latter seems to threaten what is familiar, precious, secure, or otherwise dear to us.
… it is well known that a child learns to walk, to talk, and to know his way around the world just by trying out something and seeing what happens, then modifying what he does (or thinks) in accordance with what actually happened. In this way, he spends his first few years a wonderfully creative way… As the child grows older, however, learning takes on a narrower meaning. … his ability to see something new and originally gradually dies away. And without it, there is evidently no ground from which anything really creative can grow.
Creativity can be schooled.
This is illogical. If creativity can’t be found, defined or objectified, how can it be taught? Creativity, like ‘enlightenment’, cannot be attained via techniques or magical formulae. It’s not up for marketing, and if you believe it’s a transcendental trip you’ll never get near it. Again like enlightenment, creativity is the means, not the end. What we can learn, however, is how to recognise the ways we fail to be creative – the ways we are “mediocre and mechanical” in our responses to life. Attending workshops and courses that offer immersion in a host of activities or projects – and participating with a wild and wondering mind – can be revelatory.* In such contexts we can observe our mechanical, prejudiced reactions: “I can’t work with that color.” “No way I can do that.” “This is so sophomoric…” Thus one’s conditioning is exposed and in that exposure anything is possible. In that moment creativity can emerge.
… for thousands of years, people have been led to believe that anything and everything can be obtained if only one has the right techniques and methods. What is needed is to be aware of the ease with which the mind slips comfortably back into this age-old pattern. Certain kinds of things can be achieved by techniques and formulae, but originality and creativity are not among these. The act of seeing this deeply (and not merely verbally or intellectually) is also the act in which originality and creativity can be born.
… if one is serious about being original and creative, it is necessary for him first to be original and creative about the reactions that are making him mediocre and mechanical.
No really creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings, either in nature or in society, unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be.
Chris Drury, Mani Stone, Ladakh
Woven maps, earth, wax, rubbing from a prayer stone found along the way during a two week trek in Ladakh.
76 x 66 cm. Private collection.
A creative mind is only important for scientists and arty types.
A cunningly devised hoax designed to keep the masses asleep. It’s like the notion that only certain people are capable of creativity. We all need creativity as much as the air we breathe. It’s crucial for the health of our brain and body. This isn’t woowoowaffle or magical mysticism; the science is in and available online and in dozens of publications. And the thing is, it’s not only crucial for you and me, it’s crucial for the health of society and the alive, aware planet that we call home. Have a look around: do you see intelligent, creative management of our resources – personal, societal or global?
Just as the health of the body demands that we breathe properly, so, whether we like it or not, the health of the mind requires that we be creative.
Indeed, it can be safely said that in the long run, no really subtle, deep and far-reaching problems can be solved in any field whatsoever, except by people who are able to respond in an original and creative way, to the ever changing and developing nature of the overall fact by which they are confronted.
Creativity is just an affirmative kind of thinking.
This misinformation is promoted by the purveyors of magical thinking and harkens back to the previous lies, which assert the creative mind is something that can be cultivated. Fact 1: Creativity is the mind’s innately healthy state of functioning. Fact 2: Everything is against us living and working in a creative manner. From tinyhood we are programmed by family, religion, society, and our education, to conform, to adapt, to please, to never make mistakes – and above all – be loved and admired. The good news is that anything mechanically programmed with misinformation can be given the reverse treatment: it can be erased. Entirely erased, without replacement of data. You don’t need to replace your thoughts with better ones, more creative ones. You can live without mechanical thoughts. Creatively.
[The] action of the creative state of mind is impossible if one is limited by narrow and petty aims, such as security, furthering of personal ambition, glorification of the individual or the state…
… originality and creativity begin to emerge, not as something that is the result of an effort to achieve a planned and formulated goal, but rather, as a by-product of a mind that is coming to a more nearly normal order of operation. And this is the only way in which originality and creativity can possibly arise, since any effort to reach them through some planned series of actions or exercises is a denial of the very nature of what one hopes to achieve. For this reason, originality and creativity can develop only if they are the essential force behind the very first step.
Chris Drury, Double Echo
Echocardiogram of a research pilot superimposed over an echogram of the Antarctic icecap.
Inkjet print from Flight W38. 53″ x 45″. 2007
Conditioning has no impact on creativity.
This is the claim of those who haven’t understood the way conditioning works to impact everything. (See above.) Creativity calls for clean sheets. The only way one encounters the wonder of creativity is by shifting the shit that sabotages it – meaning, one’s conditioned preconceptions and prejudices. Cellular. Systemic. And for the most part, unconscious. Skilled help can be useful when diving into the density of the programming that is held and defended at all levels. Seek the company of honest, awake, agenda-free folk who can assure you that you will not drown and your stories are mere mindstuff. The free-fall into foolishness is way sweeter than any accolades from the art pundits of the world. But it’s tricky and challenging work; I recommend participation in Bohmian Dialogue if there’s a group near you. Personally, I have noticed that any earnest intention on my part to clean up misinformation affecting my life always attracts information as to how to proceed.
If one is serious about being original and creative, it is necessary for him first to be original and creative about reactions that are making him mediocre and mechanical. Then eventually the natural creative action of the mind may fully awaken, so that it will start to operate in a basically new order that is no longer determined mainly by the mechanical aspects of thought…
… when the mind is trying to escape the awareness of [inner] conflict, there is a very different kind of self-sustaining confusion, in which one’s deep intention is really to avoid perceiving the fact, rather than to ‘sort it out’ and make it clear.
… every time the mind tries to focus on its contradictions, it ‘jumps’ to something else. It simply won’t stay with the point. Either it continues to dart from one thing to another, or to react with violent excitement that limits all attention to some triviality, or to become ‘dead’, ‘dull’ or ‘anaesthetised’, or to project fantasies that cover up all the contradictions, or to do something else that makes one momentarily unaware of the painful state of conflict in which the mind is. This order of self-sustaining confusion tends to spread to other fields, so that eventually the whole of the mind begins to deteriorate.
“Creative.” That’s me.
Given the misinformation about genuine creativity it’s not surprising that the ego usurps the “creative” moniker willy-nilly. This is common, thanks to the curricular agenda of most art schools. However, once the radical nature of the movement of creativity is understood, it’s clear that if someone is claiming they are “a creative person” they’re probably using the wrong term. Creativity isn’t personal, ever. Inconveniently, creativity demands the abdication and absence of the so-called artist. There’s a great deal of interesting, inventive and innovative work out there, but it can’t be called creative unless it has brought forth something of an entirely new order. It’s so easy to mistake the mechanical movements of mind for creativity. If your work is truly creative you’ll likely be on your knees before you know not what, you’ll be very hushed and humbled, and perhaps you’ll be saying to yourself, “Wow. I wish I’d thought of that!”
Now, as one can discover if he observes himself and other people carefully for a while, the fact is that the mind cannot help but assign supreme value in this way to whatever appears to be creative or necessary for creation. It is therefore clear that the confusion of the creative with the mechanical will have extremely deep and far-reaching consequences for the whole of the mind, with effects going immensely beyond those of more narrow and restricted kinds of conflicts. Indeed, what happens is that when the mechanical, mistaken for the creative, begins to display its inherent contradictions (so that its very existence seems to be threatened), the whole energies of mind and body are mobilized to ‘protect’ the apparently supremely precious thoughts and feelings that are thus ‘endangered’. As has been indicated, it is enabled to do this by falling into a state of self-sustaining confusion, in which it is no longer aware of its contradictory thoughts and the painful conflicts that result from them. In doing this, it lacks clear perception in almost any area that may be at all subtle. Thus, it can no longer see what is creative and what is mechanical. Indeed, the mind then starts to suppress real originality and creation, because these seem to threaten the apparently creative, but actually mechanical centre that appears to be at the heart of one’s ‘very self’. It is just this action that constitutes the process of ‘falling asleep’.
The tendency to ‘fall asleep’ is sustained by an enormous number of habitually applied preconceptions and prejudices, most of which are absorbed at a very early age, in a tacit rather than explicit form.
Chris Drury, Jura Alps
Maps of the Jura and Alps cut into strips vertically and horizontally and woven together.
86 x 66 cm. Private collection.
Creativity makes no difference to the state of the world.
So tragically wrong. Even when we’ve worked diligently to unpick our individual conditioning (misinformation that’s held as non-negotiable), we are still part of the deep tacit conditioning held within our societal and cultural context. The most destructive piece of misinformation embedded in our society’s pattern is the one that insists we are a ‘self’ separate from everything else in creation. This unexamined assumption is the source of all that sabotages the creative mind. The cobbled-together thought-bubble self, built up belief-by-belief from our every life experience, resists examination in very inventive ways. It sees a great threat in the embrace of the ‘unknown’ or ‘immeasurable’. It is incorrect to say that it is afraid, for it is fear itself woven into a thing called ‘me’. Agreeing to examine this ‘me’ is a huge ask, when the ‘me’ in question is doing everything it can to avoid scrutiny. Fear has usurped the creative mind and will provide a zillion good reasons why we should stay asleep. Clearly, we need to meet and greet this energy called fear if we want to know the potential of a creative mind. For without genuine creativity as the default response to life, the planet is peopled with sleepwalkers, mechanical creatures doomed to mediocrity, fearfulness and an aching sense of incompleteness. Fakes rule, feeding on fake information, unwittingly complicit in the passivity and violence being expressed in society and the mindless greedy carnage being wrecked upon our home planet.
This is why it is crucial to understand what creativity really involves.
Whenever … creativity is impeded, the ultimate result is not simply the absence of creativity, but an actual positive presence of destructiveness.
… creativity is a prime need of a human being and its denial brings about a pervasive state of dissatisfaction and boredom. This leads to intense frustration that is conducive to a search for exciting “outlets,” which can readily involve a degree of force that is destructive. This sort of frustration is indeed a major source of violence. However, what is even more destructive than such overt violence is that the senses, intellect and emotions of the child gradually become deadened and the child loses the capacity for free movement of awareness, attention, and thought. In effect, the destructive energy that has been aroused in the mind has been turned against the whole creative potential itself.
Creativity is … a major need of each human being and the blockage of this creativity eventually threatens civilisation with ultimate destruction.
– Bohm and Peat, Science, Order and Creativity.
Chris Drury, Everything. Nothing
Hand written text in ink on an inkjet print from an echogram of East Antarctica, on artists’ paper.
Antarctica is the height of nothingness and yet it contains everything,
it drives our climate and has our history encoded in the layers of ice.
888 x 778 mm. Private collection.
Chris Drury was born in 1948 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. His body of work includes ephemeral assemblies of natural materials, as well as more permanent landscape art, works on paper, and indoor installations. He also works on 3D sculptures.
Some of Drury’s lasting works are cloud chambers – darkened caverns constructed of local rock, turf, or other materials. Each chamber has a hole in the roof which serves as a pinhole camera; viewers may enter the chamber and observe the image of the sky and clouds projected onto the walls and floor.
On paper, he uses a variety of unusual media – including mushroom spores, dung, and peat – as a source of color and pattern. These might be overlaid with text or fingerprints, or underlaid with maps or other geographic images. More recently, Drury has produced works associated with the body, working in residence in hospitals and incorporating echocardiogram data and blood into his art. [Wikipedia]
All works Copyright © Chris Drury.
* If you live in the Toronto area check out Scott Morgan’s creativeriver.com
Scott offers help with exposing the many saboteurs of the creative mind. He knows the territory, is skilled, deeply wise, and has a great sense of humour. Lucky Torontonians!
Those with a deep interest in the creative mind will find the collection of previously unpublished writings on art, science and originality in Bohm’s book On Creativity a valuable resource:
Creativity is fundamental to human experience. In ‘On Creativity’, David Bohm, the world-renowned scientist, investigates the phenomenon from all sides: not only the creativity of invention and of imagination but also that of perception and of discovery. This is a remarkable and life-affirming book by one of the most far-sighted thinkers of modern times. [Amazon]
worth a look:
on this site
David Bohm: On Creativity
scientist meets philosopher
David Bohm and Rouault’s Clown
Scott Morgan at the artisans’ gallery