Friday 5 March 2021

Understanding human creativity and originality

There have been three main ways of understanding human creativity.

The first was that the creative Man was a channel or conduit for the gods (e.g. muses), or God; that creativity was breathed-in (inspired) from the divine. 

It was the divine/ God/s who were creative - who were original, and Men were instruments of the divine. The divine created: Men were tools of creation.

A creative Man was therefore one attuned with the divine, and who had the skills and application necessary to accomplish what he was being 'told' to do.  

The second view was of the creative Man as an observer of realities, who 'copied' reality (with skill and diligence). The most-creative person was one who best held-up 'a mirror to nature'. 

Men were not truly creative (they did not originate); but some Men were good observers: honest, hard-working and skilled observers. 

The idea of a creator was Not to be 'original' - indeed Man could not, and should not try to, originate; because his job was to perceive and record existing reality. 

The Romantic idea of genius was that the genius should be original: should originate. That is, the genius should add-to already-existing reality, in new ways, unique to that person. 

That which the Romantic genius creates is assumed to come from the Man himself - and not 'merely' be  something that already-existed in the divine, or in nature.

This means that - in this particular respect - Man is a god: the genius is ascribed the same primary creative capacity as the prime creator/s*. 

So, to the Romantic understanding, Man can be a true creator, thus truly original. Yet - especially from the early 20th century - there arose the Modern consciousness; and with it the question of what direction this originality should assume: what were the proper constraints on it. 

For Modern Man, the idea of the genius in his creative capacity as a type of the divine became impossible to think at a general cultural level; because the divine was either ironized or excluded. Modernity was atheistic, materialistic - the spiritual was not real. 

Thus 'originality' became detached from the genius being an originator (because to modern consciousness the material world was everything); and was redefined in terms of clashing with what went before: as novelty, newness, shockingness. 

A false dichotomy thus arose between the direction of originality: should the genius create to please the 'audience', satisfy the 'public' - or else to please oneself (or - in practice - for a small group of those Men who appreciate newness and shock - the avant garde). 

This led to the idea of popular art that pandering to the masses; versus elite art that was 'art for art's sake', and was indifferent to shocking the bourgeoisie (indeed enjoyed doing this).

The assumption that the genius was therefore a Man who was in opposition to the masses - either working alone or supported only by a small and enlightened 'audience' of open-minded radicals. 

This was a false dichotomy because it excluded the divine and necessarily understood the purpose of genius in purely this-worldly terms.

The true direction of genius is Not a choice between pandering to the public or pleasing oneself; but whether to create in harmony with already-existing-and-ongoing divine-creation; or else in conflict with God. 

In other words: the choice was between being a good genius or an evil genius. The good genius creates in harmony with God's creation (which is the source of the good: which defines the good).

But the evil genius sets himself against divine creation - past, present and/or future. 

There are only two choices. Because not to be in harmony with divine creation is - of itself - to be a source of dis-harmony, of dissonance - to be working-against God's on-going creation. 

The twentieth century saw the decline of genius; and part of this was surely the profound misunderstanding of creativity that came from the exclusion of the divine from public discourse. 

This led to the false dichotomy of the popular versus personal/ elite creator - and this led to the phenomenon of the evil genius dominating the twentieth century; with more and more of the most influential geniuses from c. 1918 creating in disharmony with the divine: Picasso, James Joyce, Schoenberg and Stravinsky all fell into this category in their later work. 

Then, in the later twentieth century, genius became rarer and less gifted; first in the arts (where the evil genius first dominated) then in the science also (as science became less honest, increasingly externally-controlled, and used for increasingly evil purposes).  

So we have ended up in the 21st century with very few and marginalized geniuses of lesser stature. Why? Probably because genius originates in God's placement of potentially-genius souls in particular circumstances. 

When genius becomes predominantly evil, and when a single genius can have such massive cultural effects, then it is reasonable to assume that the gift of genius has been withdrawn from the Western, European-originated societies where it was previously most dominant and evident.  

When human creativity is being regularly used against divine creation; human creativity is withdrawn by God - as a form of a damage-limitation. 

This rapid collapse of Western creativity over recent decades has had the unfortunate consequence of reducing the possibility of The West - as a society - escaping from its downward self-imposed, spiral towards self-annihilation.

Yet if the West was more creative, if there were more and greater geniuses; these would almost-certainly not be used to solve of social problems; but instead be used in ways that would increase our problems and accelerate our collapse into evil even more rapidly.  

*And, since the genius is a Man - this understanding also implies that Men generically have a nature previously only ascribed to the divine. This further implies that because Men are 'gods' there are many gods. By my understanding, this further implies not just polytheism - in the sense of multiple creative-originators. There is only one primary creative source of our reality, of the creation in which we dwell; whom we term God. But if the reality of Romantic genius is accepted; then this implies pluralistic universe of many divine-creative-agents who have co-existed with God, eternally - since this neatly explains why originative creativity is possible to many entities. Why (to use Tolkien's term) Man is truly a subcreator.   


Francis Berger said...

A thought-provoking post!

I know your views concerning this, and I am by no means trying to push anything, but I really do feel you should read a little Berdyaev. What you have written here is sympatico to Berdyaev's views on creativity and on humanity's role in the divine-human creative process. So much so, that I marvel at how your ideas on creativity can mirror his so closely without you having read him deeply.

I'm not sure if Berdyaev said anything explicitly about pluralism, but in the Meaning of the Creative Act he expounds upon how his ideas are paradoxical because they involve elements of both monism and dualism. Perhaps he was struggling with the concept of pluralism and could not verbalize it in any other way (just a conjecture on my part). In any case, he certainly was not supportive of the Greek philosophical roots of monism supporting traditional Christian theology and metaphysics.

No Longer Reading said...

Good post. Lots to ponder over here.

Bruce Charlton said...

Frank - "I really do feel you should read a little Berdyaev"

One of these days... But it is a hopeless task to recommend books or authors to me! I read very little new work these days (i.e. mostly re-reading), and that dictated by some weird inner impulse that I cannot fathom.

Robert Brockman II said...

"My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.” ― Nikola Tesla

Jonathan said...

An excellent articulation of what I think is obvious but have never seen written down in such a complete form.

The language of the supporters of the evil geniuses, which you use copiously in this post, has always seemed funny to me, because I can't believe they're so open about what they're really about. For example, recall Robert Hughes' BBC documentary series and book about modern art, "The Shock of the New"; why do they want us to know it's primarily about shock? And even in the 80's I thought it was a bit odd that so many so-called artists talked so enthusiastically about subverting this and subverting that. Now, 40 years later, they're still bragging about how subversive they and their creations are, but it seems less amusing and more darkly demonic, as they're like half-conscious automatons, blithely oblivious to how absurd their anti-establishment act seems now that they're the establishment and have been for decades.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - Indeed. In the UK, I am continually surprised at the lack of cognitive dissonance when you see that these shocking, transgressive, subversive 'artists' get loaded with grants, prizes and even the medals and honours awarded by *The Queen* (MBE, OBE, Knighthoods etc).

But it all makes easy sense when you realize that "shocking, transgressive, subversive" etc. are just code words for *anti*-God/ -The Good/ -divine creation; and as the evil-allied humans have become first the dominant - now the ruling - group, naturally they promote each other.