I have talked about creativity a lot on here. What is its function in society? What purpose does it serve? Is it worth pursuing as a career, despite the hardships involved in attempting to do so? Can it be therapeutic? In this article I raise another question: Where does creativity come from?
“Now, Devin,” you might say, “That’s silly. It comes from the brain.” Indeed it does, but I want to probe something deeper here – when I get an idea for a story, for example, I don’t always feel personally responsible for it. The idea hits me like a bolt of lightning, and I think “Oh, that’s a good idea – thank God I was around to catch it.”
Maybe this means I’ve got the worst case of imposter syndrome on the planet, or maybe it makes it sound like I believe in “divine inspiration”, which isn’t true. I do think that people are, bizarrely, a bit like an antenna – they’re receivers, waiting to be struck by a great idea if they’re lucky. It’s like scanning the far reaches of the stars from a high-tech astronomy tower and, after what seems like eons of waiting, you might get lucky and hear a little “Ping”. Something has made contact.
This is has occurred with some ideas I’ve had for short films, plays, and stories that I’ve been the proudest of. If someone were to ask me where I came up with the idea, the truth is I honestly don’t know. If it’s a school assignment I might have felt backed into a corner, thinking “C’mon brain, I need something” and eventually it’ll pop up. Why did I get the particular idea I got? Am I hardwired to be interested in certain things? Am I responsible for the contents of my own head?
This may sound like a “Is there such a thing as free will?” type of lecture – and maybe it is a little bit of that – but in the context of writing and creativity it’s not a new idea. Many poets have considered themselves to be vessels for their poems, waiting to be hit by one at the right place at the right time. I too have experienced this same phenomenon of random, sudden inspiration. I’m sure we’re influenced by what we consume, and how often we aspire to broaden our horizons, but sometimes our mind seems to have its own plans.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore and try new things as artists. We can’t be waiting for that so-called “divine inspiration” as justification for not working. Sometimes inspiration isn’t sudden: sometimes it’s the light at the end of the tunnel of a lot of rewriting and painting things in new colours/styles. A wise woman once said that we should “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” (okay, it was Mrs. Frizzle) and as artists we can’t be afraid to do that.
So a response to “Where does creativity come from?” might be, on some level, “Does it matter?” The fact that we have this drive to express ourselves, this inner voice – there’s no question that those who experience this have ended up producing some of the most timeless contributions to our culture. We should all be grateful for people who try to make a living through their art or try to make their mark on the world through it because, as I’ve discussed in a previous article, we need art to keep us sane.
Wherever creativity comes from or however divine inspiration manifests itself, or whatever mechanisms in the brain have to fire to trigger specific ideas about specific subjects, I think we should all be grateful as both consumers and creators of art for how much it’s enriched our lives.
(Credit for featured image: The Creative Exchange.)