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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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