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The Emotions of Creativity

The Emotions of Creativity

I find that photo above my mantle irresistible. If I gaze into it long enough my spirit sings; I’m there, in that place where the photographer found a peaceful moment early in the morning. What I feel is the intent of the captured moment. The photographer – Paul Camponigro – did a great job of connecting his experience with mine through his creation.

Emotions are the simplest reality; our first awareness. Our thoughts can carry us to complex reaches of imagination, but our feelings are more primitively connected to the earth. Emotions lead the mind; we feel before we think. In effect, a statement like, “I can’t believe the way I’m feeling about this” implies that there are two of us: our thinking selves and our feeling selves. Emotional feelings are distillations that can explode into complex thought. Both learned and inherited, we have emotions before we know what we are feeling. We are indifferent until emotions are triggered

It’s difficult to discuss emotions relating to creative artistic expression without digging at the roots of emotions themselves, but it’s not hard to experience the emotive nature of creativity. Artistic expression or performance has an emotional component: Etta James in full voice, an Ansel Adams retrospective, or a dance company performing the Nutcracker are good examples. Back in the 80’s, I choked up watching Larry Bird trade baskets with Dominic Wilkins during a critical NBA playoff series; a creative human performance at its most inspiring. Perhaps a Brahms Concerto brings tears to your eyes or is it the accomplishments of the 17th Century Dutch Masters? What’s up with that? How do these feelings reach us?

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Peppering a musical staff with shotgun holes and playing them as notes is music. It’s music because it is in the form of music and can be played. Provoking as it may be, shotgun music is bad unless you are lucky enough to shoot holes corresponding to a Beethoven Symphony, or at least an emotive measure or two. That is, an emotion other than anger at being subjected to noise. Like a computer randomly selecting musical notes, the artist (marksman) made no attempt to interpret, reveal or otherwise transmute a feeling about their creation. Yet, I wouldn’t discount luck.

The next rung on the “low emotion” musical ladder is that designed for public soothing; those homogenized tonal equivalents of raw tofu. A grocery store tune crackling through a 4″ speaker is an emotional wasteland. Imagine you’re eagerness to connect a friend with the best psychiatrist you know if they boasted an intense emotional connection to a Musak interpretation of the “Long and Winding Road”. His psyche would need investigation, don’t you agree?

Wedding bands play mechanical versions of old favorites, as if the goal is to add as little of their own style as possible. “Hey, that sounds exactly like …” Fill in the blank. At a wedding last month, a version of “Stairway to Heaven” was close enough to the original to make me groan out loud. It was followed by the best “Last Train to Clarksville” replication I’ve heard since the Monkeys split. Each member of the band is a talented musician producing near soul-free versions of familiar once popular tunes. At the same time as the music is played, creativity is scantly identifiable without a fresh contribution from the artist. Show me emotion; risk something.

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Sharing our feelings makes us vulnerable. With artistic expression, emotions offer a distinction between artificial and genuine art. The artificial are those masquerades – no matter how well performed or polished – that pretend to be creative through imitation or rote. Even a small emotional connection at the right moment can change lives. While that may seem melodramatic – it’s frequently true. Artistic expression sans emotion is a dead end; it connects with no one.

Great artists supply emotional tension to invariant forms. A rendered tree can be a child’s pencil line of trunk and branches, but the tree in a Camponigro photograph carries a stronger emotional tension. A tree Paul Cezanne interpreted may prevent me from seeing a tree the same way hence. My past is projected on his interpretation; I visit emotions that the image evokes. In a sense, I find new meaning in the tree through his illustrated perceptions; I draw analogies from my past upon viewing the intimately rendered tree that make me feel something new. He created imagery that left room for my own interpretation: mixing old with new, mine with his.

In his landmark book, “The Courage to Create”, Rolo May offers this insight: “Artists pursue meaninglessness until they can force it to mean something …They immerse themselves in chaos to give it form.” In other words, form is an interpretation communicated through their world view, and artists bring emotion, once buried in chaos, to the surface.

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Emotions disturb equilibrium – at equilibrium we’re neutral. Exceptional art isn’t neutral and neither are significant artists. The stereotypically tormented soul of a painter, sculpture, musician or writer, removed from their torment, risk equilibrium thus dulling creativity. Offer an emotional pillow; comfort, or long term contentment and a muse may be ignored. Orderliness, comfort, and contentment, eliminates the turmoil in which artists plunge to reveal their creation. An artist in emotional retreat is comfortable; no longer struggling against turmoil or challenging complacency.

While I’m not suggesting that all great artists are tormented, [although it may seem that way] I do claim, however, that they challenge reality in a way that peaks them emotionally. Stereotypes don’t emerge from nothing; the artist temperament is well documented. Much has been written about why artists act the way the do. Google it and you’ll see.
Why are artists so damn sensitive [I hear you ask]? Perhaps it’s because they’re receptive and stay emotionally in tune with their surroundings. Or, maybe because they are hopelessly insecure – they are, after all, “putting it out there” – so to speak. I believe, In part, they appear sensitive because of risking emotional vulnerability. That is, if they’re any good. Artists need to stay receptive, like an antennae pointed toward the sky; emotionally open to feel the encounter with reality that brings together imagination, craft, and emotions to the act of creation.

Imagination confronts reality through its muse. Creativity is, at least in part, the manifestation of the artist’s emotional encounter with a muse; imagination merged with reality filtered by an emotional world view.
I know from my experience as a photographer that clicks of the shutter give a nanosecond peak of pleasure; a joy of being in the moment. The best photographers don’t look for that moment so much as they feel it. Once in a target rich environment – whether staged or found – the intellectualizing is over and the fine nuance of emotional connection begins. At that point, composition and other skills take a back burner to the subject / artist connection.

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Finally: conformity, authoritarian power, material success, and apathy corrode our creative powers: these are anti-creative forces. In contrast, childlike emotional freedom, when added to adult passion for creating the immortal, amplifies creativity. Like the ultimate creation we achieve through sexual relations, artistic creations return a potent pleasure.

The Author: Bruce DeBoer is a marketing/creative consultant and photographer who can be found at http://www.BruceDeboer.com , http://www.HireBruce.com , and http://www.synthesiscreative.com

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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