Creativity as an undeniable aspect of life – 20th May 1993 – San Sebastian, Spain
Creativity is a word that I do not particularly like to use but it stands for a great deal, amongst them originality, inspiration, inventiveness – in other words, something spontaneous, deep and real. We live in a world that takes everything apart; far too much really because you cannot take apart and create at the same time. The Chinese have a saying: “You cannot fill a jug and drink it at the same time”.
Let me try to define Creativity in the way I see it:
– a state of grace, a state of being in which everything converges, in which in time and space are focused into one point;
– a balanced condition which partakes as much of our heritage from the remotest past, from the experience and the impressions of our present life, as it does from a projection of the future;
– a state of heightened awareness, of awareness in suspense and of ultimate revelation, sometimes rapid and sometimes eluding a lifetime of search.
Therefore, creativity is a human situation in life in which the subjective and the universal meet. The very definition of life lies in its flexibility, its adaptation and its ability to meet new circumstances. The overpowering demand on the part of life for the creative capacity and creative achievement not only in recognisable works of art but also in the moment-to-moment, improvised response to the demands we face are also a call to discard the ready-made crutches and to strive for perfect balance which requires inner harmony. Think of the tightrope walker who believes in his own abilities and courageously puts one foot in front of the other. Or consider natural sciences: the greatest discoveries were, in most cases, the result of someone trying to look at matters with new eyes and to marvel at them despite the fact that until now he had accepted them as obvious and as part of daily life, be it a leaf which drops to the ground, a branch swimming on the surface of a lake, be it a day and night, matter and energy.
Let us consider our everyday life. We constantly have to justify ourselves by way of craft, the arts and even simple acts of existence wherein we renew the creative state of grace time and time again.
There is no area within our sensory perception that has not been blessed with this creative state of grace: There are the senses with which we perceive music, architecture, literature, nature and food. Whether it is the beauty of a voice, of a building or of the spoken work or poem, whether it is the dewdrop on a rose petal or the scent of a freshly picked apple: we will always react to that creative state of grace which reveals meaningfulness in terms of living truth. Real truth cannot be either a total invention of our own nor can it be an assertion in which our existence does not figure. Therefore this state of grace is one of motion towards light and enlightenment which, like the growing tree or plant, is neither entirely of our own choosing nor entirely dictated by other forces and is the interplay of myriad factors.
I maintain that this creative state of grace is a perfectly normal state of existence, the birthright of every living creature, and is self-evident in the expression of one’s beloved as it is in the grateful and trusting face of a child. However, pain, anxiety, mistrust and fear, in the same way or in a different way as greed or envy, cause our world to contract. In the absence of this state of grace, of the one and only bounty which is our own privilege, our right to receive from within our own heart, mind and body, our own privilege to give ourselves as it is to give and to receive from other, in its absence, when it falters, lies buried or is sold for material gain, the here and the now eclipse the past and/or the future. Fear and greed, the counterparts of pain and envy, twisted versions of awe and fulfilment, narrow our vision. Fear among slaves, greed among free men, reduce the universe to the I, to me to my salvation at the expense of all which subjugates or limits me, and finally I can think of only my pain or of only me and what is mine.
The reason why the majority of the living have only the most fleeting acquaintance with this state of grace, the reason why they affirm it is the prerogative of the very few exceptional individuals, the reason why, in the common mind, everything unattainable is lumped together (satisfaction, pleasure, happiness, laziness, security, money, power, lack of responsibility and obligation, abandon, spontaneity, recklessness) is only because they have not known either the give and take of love and compassion or the discipline and joy of creative achievement. Let us remember that freedom to speak, to do, to achieve, is a creative state of grace and that the greatest and most precious freedoms are the freedoms to help and to love, the freedoms to protect and to serve.
At its best, freedom is a communal enterprise. It can only be maintained by the simultaneous and synonymous acceptance of responsibility to others. Freedom depends for its survival not on its exploitation to selfish ends, but on the voluntary association of people for benevolent purposes; thousands of amenity societies, the struggles for liberation all over the world and their support everywhere, and the thousands of individual societies in the democratic countries of the world. There are the touchstones of our freedoms. Conversely, the emergence of a truly unique, courageous, universal ma, like Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov in a slave society is the greatest glory humanity can claim. His is the conscious voice of millions of innocents who perished, tortured and martyred, and who never knew the state of grace which is the theme of my talk. But his is also the conscious voice of all humanity who, aware of the unity and inter-dependence of all life as never before, are yearning to hear the new universal code, to know at first hand and with the immediacy of their total awareness this state of grace I am speaking of.
We are surrounded by man-made environment which is often a travesty of creativity. Generally our solutions for social, economic grievances reflect a dearth of inspired thinking, of imagination, of an absence in the population at large of the concept of service to society. Unfortunately, in the application of science, in its technological superstructure, in its industrial output, as it affects our individual and social existence, creativity is largely absent. We cannot recognise the craftsman or the architect or a particular style of our own, rooted in place and time, in the objects we handle or in the buildings we work in or inhabit. Mostly flat, righ-angled, uniform and anonymous all over the world, these are dicated by considerations and abstractions, which reduce the user or the buyer to arbitrary common denominators which completely omit his mental, spiritual, moral and physical reactions, as if he did not react, or strive, or feel. Wars, wilfull destruction and excessive noise provide the world with its contours, however, they have no part in creativity!
In the private pursuits of sculpture, music, tapestry, glass, painting or jewellery, much beautiful work is being done, but so long as it is absent in communal expression, so long do these individual arts and crafts appear merely as escapes.
But, to be facetious, creative thought is not likely to emerge in a pill-swallowing, sweets-addicted, prejudice-inclined, violence-fascinated, money-bewitched, reckless, indulgent, and pleasure-bent civilization, comprising otherwise an admirable, tolerant, mature, fair-mined, responsible population.
Those who are victims of prejudice and inflexible ideas whose lives in the main concern themselves with the burden of material survival, cannot escape their fate. They are condemned to starvation of their soul. And so it follows that destructive elements rise so that they may experience some kind of success, however, negative. And this success takes the place of the positive and truly creative forces.
We are under an obligation towards the young people. Each and every one of us should strive to support and encourage the state of grace, that of creativity, in those younger than ourselves. We all have, one time or another, watched a small child in its efforts to create something new, something different out of the different kinds of toys it had been given. If the newly built tower collapses, there are tears. It is part of human nature to strive towards accomplishment and to delight in success. Only his own impatience and his clumsiness spoil it for him. He gets angry, even furious, destruction is the next step. Not only has the moment arrived when we must interfere; the moment when we could have prevented the destruction has already passed. The responsibility is born mainly by those to whom we entrust our children. To begin with it si the parents and the siblings or some relatives, thereafter it is the teachers.
Theirs is the greatest responsibility by far for they are dealing with a number of children who come from varying backgrounds, and they are expected to pass on knowledge, without being in possession of closer knowledge about the children’s varying circumstances and their individual talents, yet having to build up those human beings entrusted to them, in a fair manner. There can be no doubt that a certain amount of discipline is necessary in order to melt the “two souls which dwell in every breast” into one. Psychological insight, diplomacy and joy in their work are prerequisites. A teacher should not merely rely on his authority or the unquestioning obedience of his pupils but should offer vivacity and flexibility in order to pit his own creativity against that of his scholars. Another vitally important component is a sense of humour. In the life of humans this is a source of strength, which enables us to exist even in circumstances, which could seriously threaten us. Humour grows in each and every one: consider the smile which comes so easy to all of us. Its tender bud can be brought to fruition through education. This would indeed be a service to mankind for humour has the ability to distance us from our own ego, to fight off ills and pains, to counter misfortune with a joke and to give even the unbearable its proper place within the mysterious interconnections of life.
Looking at the present state of education and learning it seems that we do justice to neither the receptiveness nor the unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the children. We should begin much sooner to introduce them to demanding projects in the intellectual and in the artistic sphere as well as in handicraft skills. I am thinking in particular of arithmetic, sciences, music, medicine and astronomy. Medicine leads to a genuine feeling, the ability to lessen pain and to heal wounds. This is something for which no one is ever too young. Astronomy means gazing at the stars in an intelligent manner. These are the true values of life and it is precisely these that matter in the education of human beings.
We belong to an age of growing awareness, increasing knowledge and the important realisation that amid the structure of preconceived ideas, inflexible theories and viewpoints, a great number of deviations will have to be considered in all their significance and subtlety. We have inherited many inflexibilities from the past, now we begin to see the connections. It has become vital to distance ourselves from all the preconceived ideas and to replace them with a living flexibility and a deeper understanding of all life form with its continuously changing fabric in its build and its circumstances. We are busying ourselves adding micro concepts to macro, atomic particles to the nebular hypothesis and energy to matter.
All this becom a firm part of our cultural structure which is lacking in balance between the material and the spiritual, as the wise Albert Schweitzer well recognised. Culture is defined as being the “sum total of living expression”. Culture contains all that which is manmade, which serves a purpose in life, for instance tools. Culture expresses a form of spirituality, as, for instance, symbols do. Since the human being made his very first tool thanks to his own creativity, since man submitted himself to the very first rules of behaviour, we live within a culture. By cultural achievements outliving the moment, the continuation and growth of that which was once discovered is ensured. We are fortunate to be in possession of the first tangible signs of human creativity whilst reading to this day about the former “primitive culture”. We ourselves live within the so-called “advanced civilisation” which is in fact proving to be a doubtful achievement.
‘Culture’ is a many-faceted term, depending on whether it denotes an individual, a group or the whole of society. The English writer, T.S. Eliot, made an intensive study of this subject and came to the conclusion that the culture of an individual depends on the culture of a group and that in turn the culture of a group depends on the culture of the whole of society. The latter aspect is the most important one, and this is the point from which eventually the individual can be reached. One progress from the outside to the inside and not the other way around. In other words, we are first of all looking at Europe and then at the individual countries before concentrating on the individual human being. When we think, for instance, of the most widespread means of communication – the language – we discover that there exists enormous interdependence, that our words frequently have the same origin but differ essentially in their rhythm, in the music of the word. However, the European culture must not turn away from non-European cultures, thus isolating itself. There are no cultural borders and none can, therefore, be closed. History alone creates differences in a natural way, because those countries of a continent which share their history obviously have closer links with each other.
We have, however, turned our backs on the creative powers within culture, and we have shifted our priorities to our own detriment.
As a result the emphasis of our culture is clearly placed on the material rather than on the spiritual. This is an unhealthy shift of our creativity because the equilibrium has been disturbed. Each new discovery resulting from our use of the forces of nature means change and, in some cases, radical changes in the living conditions of the individual, of groups within society and of states. Our knowledge and ability have risen to heights previously only dreamt of. Admittedly, living conditions have been improved in some respects, but on the other hand, our enthusiasm for our achievements has seriously impaired our conception: we put too much emphasis on material success and neglect the spiritual, which is the real breeding-ground for our creativity. We are in the same situation as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, who recognises the danger too late and ‘cannot rid himself of the spirits”. We are heading towards catastrophe with open eyes. We are driven to it – ironically by ourselves – and the result is that we are constrained. We turn into slaves again, and freedom, our most precious possession, which we have tried to obtain again and again, is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. How can man be so foolish? Why does he not learn from his own history? I do not know when he will do so, but I am in no doubt that he will. I do not dare prophecy if this process of learning will have a positive effect on him, but if we recognise our error, it is not too late to turn back. We must become creative again in the truest sense of the word. We carry this possibility within us and must simply have the courage and the earnest desire to turn back. Turning back is, in effect, a turning-away from many things; it will be difficult.
Not so long ago a journalist asked me if the suppression of creative abilities, i.e. if human beings are deprived of the possibility to give expression to their abilities and talents, releases brutality. As I have shown in an earlier example, the creative powers in man can easily become destructive powers if they cannot find means of expression? The quickest way to change is destruction. Take, for instance, the mammoth trees, which are a thousand or more years old, such as the enormous sequoia in California. They can be destroyed within minutes. Alternatively, think of a development within a culture, which has taken hundreds of years to evolve, to grow and caused great works to be created. A few minutes are sufficient for the broom of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to raze it to the ground. This has reached terrible proportions. Destruction is achieved ever more quickly whilst it takes as long as ever to create great works. No digital clock in the world can accelerate the process of creation. “Time passes, but wisdom remains”, to quote Herman Hesse. It classifies the human being with the cosmic rhythm.
Will man, with all his vast theoretical knowledge, be able to set the course correctly towards the future? Will he thus ensure the survival of future generations?
The majority of people expect their wishes to be fulfilled at an ever-increasing speed. Thus, we are in danger of continually opting for the simplest solutions, even if, taking the long-term view, the price to be paid is far too high. I merely need to mention the word ‘environment’, which humanity is destroying with a vengeance. Another danger lies in the fact that the people of rich countries are becoming increasingly passive.
There is so little that requires intense study: answers to almost every problem can be read up in an ever-increasing number of reference books. This can only have disadvantageous effect on the maturing stages of the human being, but this process has, after all, been worked out by human beings who can cope with the great challenges of our time. We must, in the truest sense of the word, become creative again.
Let us keep the following words of wisdom ever present in our mind:
Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.