Apr
20

The Nature of Creativity

In 1975 the Sociologist Rollo May published a series of essays about the nature of creativity.

He begins with these words:

We are living at a time when one age is dying and the new age is not yet born.

A choice confronts us. Shall we, as we feel our foundations shaking, withdraw in anxiety and panic? Frightened by a loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy?

If we do those things we will have surrendered our chance to participate in the forming of the future. We will have forfeited the distinctive characteristic of human beings- namely to influence our evolution through our own awareness. We will have capitulated to the blind juggernaut of history and lost the chance to mold the future into a society more equitable and humane.

Or shall we seize the courage necessary to preserve our sensitivity, awareness and responsibility in the face of radical change?

We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us.

To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.

The name of his book is The Courage to Create.

His ideas from 40 years ago are perhaps even more meaningful in the world we find ourselves in today.

40 years ago May was speaking to artists, psychologists, philosophers and academics. Today his words are an imperative for every one of us.

For the past ten years I have been involved in an emerging field that uses the arts to help people in the realm of business, education and organizations understand and appreciate the creative process.

What is it about the artistic perspective that makes it so relevant to these supposedly non-artistic fields? Particularly at this point in time?

The world of art and the world business are two of the oldest human disciplines and they emerged at roughly the same time in the history of the human race. It wasn’t until about 300 years ago that an artificial separation occurred. The world of “the arts” became this rarefied domain where only the artistically gifted could venture.

The rest of us were to be the audience the appreciators.

That separation has had negative implications for our culture that were not immediately apparent. Separating the world of arts from the world of commerce and everyday life was like separating the heart from the brain and deprived both realms of essential perspectives that we need to sustain the balance between the spiritual and the worldly aspects of human being.

What do we think of as Art?

Paintings, Sculptures, Orchestral Scores

Wonderful objects that bring to a stand certain ontological truths that the artist “knew” about the time and the world in which they lived.

One aspect often overlooked  about “art” and it’s purpose in the world is is the idea that the “how” of art has something important to teach people who may not think of themselves as artists.

As beautiful and valuable our “objects de art” are to us they sit on display in museums or are produced in magnificent halls at specific times and places for which we need to step out of our normal lives to engage.

This is the “what” of art

But have you ever wondered about how that object came to be?

I call this process the how of art and while it’s true that not everyone is capable of or interested in making art or music there is a great deal that can be learned about improving human relationships from the “how” of the artistic process that process through which we connect with and give expression to our deepest human nature in forms other than words.

Most business people I work with are taken aback when I suggest that they are artists. But think about it- the “what” of business may be a contract, a product, or a transfer of value but each of those things came to be through the relationship of people to one another. And it is that “how”- the way people interrelate in business that creates, shapes and defines the quality of the world we all live in together.

The creative imagination that invents micro financing for individuals in India or develops wind and solar energy technology that can deliver at the scale we need or discovers new designs in bio-technonlogy to cure disease or strengthen the food chain is the same creative imagination that creates the paintings, sculptures music and dance we define as art

But the organizational behavior of Business does not take place in the nurturing environments of artists studios or the concert halls. It happens in social arenas that are usually insensitive at best and at worst destructive to the dynamics that enhance and nurture collaborative creative thinking.

 Fifty years ago visionaries like Rollo May began to sense that our creative capacity was not keeping up with the complex problems that were rapidly beginning to emerge. He knew these problems would require unprecedented collaboration of creative thinking in order to solve.

What we find at this intersection of the world of art and the world of commerce are the very resources we need to take that creative leap May was talking about. To open wide the realm of our creative capacity and feeling in order to solve problems for which solutions will only come from exploring the deepest levels of our imagination. And that is the realm of the artist from which we separated centuries ago.   

  • Michael, Bravo! One of my favorite quotes came from a text book, The Art of Seeing. It said, “The question is not, ‘Why do some of us make art?’ It is, ‘Why don’t we?” Our creativity is both elemental to every human discipline and infinite in the possibilities it can create. I also thrive on seeing the light bulb go off in the board room or conference hall when business people realize, “I am creative! What else have I been telling myself I can’t do!?!?” Creating CHANGE is at the top of everyone’s to-do list right now. I agree, let’s move into a new age. One characterized by an immense appreciation of the arts and creativity.

  • anonymous

    What a great perspective on the inter-weaving of the arts and the business world. The creativity of the artist also can exist ( and often does) in the business professional. Also by the same token, the artist can better their career by learning and employing the knowledge and techniques of the businessman. How true

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