Jun
20

Janus and the Big Tent

Janus is the Roman god with the two faces, one looking forward and one back (or: in opposition). In the 1970’s, psychiatrist Albert Rothenburg coined the term “Janusian Thinking” to describe the oppositional energies that are often present in creativity.

An image of Janus hangs on the wall outside the creative studies library at Buffalo State College. (It’s fitting that he hangs at the threshold, as Janus was also the god of doorways and passages…)

Head of Janus. Butler Library, Buffalo State College

I just returned from my first two weeks as a student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State. I learned many wonderful things, among which was this concept of Janusian Thinking. I’m holding onto it, in fact, because in order to embark on this education (which will lead to a Master of Science degree), I’ve needed to expose my personal understanding of how creativity has manifested in my life (from an artistic point of view), to challenges and probably also to changes. A dear friend, upon hearing my intention to begin the program, asked: “Aren’t you afraid it will destroy the magic?”

Yeah, sometimes I have been.

But my first two weeks in the program showed me something else that I find just as important as theories of contradiction and paradox: diversity. My cohort is made up of professionals in painting, photography, food science, consulting, communications, academia, government, etc. As we came to know each other over the course of the two weeks, it became abundantly clear that “creativity” is a Big Tent kind of place. There’s lots of room here—for the science, and the art.

As I think about it now, perhaps the role of Janus as presider-over of doorways is just as significant to creativity as his role of embodying paradox. Perhaps it’s in developing comfort with polarities (art/science; inspiration/measurement; sensing/thinking, etc, etc) that we really come to appreciate being lifted over the threshold, and into the tent.

  • cyrielkortleven

    Nice blog, Amy. I also believe that the Tent of creativity is big enough to explore it from different angles and discover always new ways to use it. Creative wishes, Cyriel

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