Rosenberry Books blog

Art vs Creativity

My husband calls me “chronically creative,” for which I deem myself qualified to kibitz with Larry Dossey, author of One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters, and Cara Barker, author of World Weary Woman: Her Wound and Transformation (Studies in Jungian Psychology By Jungian Analysts, on the subjects of art and creativity).

The Huffington Post has run any number of articles on these subjects over the years. Last year, I read Cara Barker’s “The Soul of an Artist: Top 20 Characteristics to Invoke Your GPS” (June 20, 2013). My turbulent thoughts were tempered by the soaringly-earnest supportiveness of her intentions. I set my words aside.

Larry Dossey contributed an intriguing essay about the physic connection love creates to our book by Dr Bernie Siegel, Words & Swords: Marriage & Family.

This past December, Larry Dossey posted “Where Does Creativity Come From?” (December 16, 2013), which expresses a spirituality that I am in accord with. He relays the marvelous story of Joseph Chilton Pearce’s transformation when his 5 year old son unconsciously acted as a Library Angel, eruditely telling Pearce exactly what he needed to know.

But I am deeply concerned about the words art/artist and creativity.

To be creative, in my book, is simply to be receptive to possibilities. This can apply to absolutely anything. It is not limited to practical solutions or making anything.

One can be creative about how to get from your house to your neighbor’s house. If you think there is only one way — the way you always go, down the sidewalk — you are displaying a lack of creativity. You could cut across the yard (or the alley). You could run a rope from roof to roof and then hand-over-hand, tight rope or glide there. You could set out in the opposite direction on a pogo stick and hop there from around the block. You could leap like a squirrel from tree to tree, or you could fly there. Just because a possibility is impossible doesn’t mean it isn’t creative.

Perhaps the more possibilities you perceive, the more creative you are. We are more or less creative because we are more or less alive. We are incarnated to become more and more alive, or as Cara Barker says encouragingly, “I create because I AM.”

Connectedness makes aliveness possible. Larry Dossey’s article is ultimately about “seeking the Source, the One Mind,” and I would venture to suggest that rather than asking “Where Does Creativity Come From?,” Thomas Moore is really asking, “Where does aliveness come from?”

Perhaps this is a small point, but the problem comes when we make the automatic leap from talking about creativity to talking about art, as if we are talking about the same thing.

Art is a word like love, or master, or guru. Poor, dear old words. They have multiple meanings, which causes confusion. Indeed, some of the definitions have come about through confusion and misuse.

Love is unconditionally wanting the best for the object of our love, but we say,“I love jelly beans.” Love also refers to sexual attraction.

A guru is a master of experiential spiritual wisdom, but TV gurus now teach us the 7 steps to weight loss.

Master is a term now in as common use as standing ovations. Once upon a time, a master was one who had achieved mastery, not someone who was good enough to teach someone else how. Without traditions, who is the judge of such mastery?

Art is certainly not everything made creatively. When, twenty-seven years ago, I used a terry diaper cover to line an itchy wool hat for my 2 year-old — that was creative, but it certainly wasn’t art. Art is a certain kind of creation, an aesthetic creation, produced with awareness and skill — the more depth, truth and spirit in it, the better.

One can also use the word art to speak of anything that takes some moxy, as in “the art of cleaning windows” (something I’ve never achieved). This may have led to some of the confusion.

Art is a certain kind of creation. Even when I developed a unique method of book construction for Rosenberry Books, this was creativity, not art.

Although Cara Barker says, “There is not a moment when we are not all artists…,” it simply isn’t true. We are not all artists, any more than we are all bricklayers or airplane pilots. Artist and creative person are not synonymous terms.

Cara Barker adds, “What does it mean to take on your birthright as an artist? Ask any child. They don’t know otherwise.”

The potential creativity is there in every being, adult or child, and one would wish that every child were allowed the space, love and support to be creative. But every child is not an artist (or a musician, or a mathematician…) any more than every adult is.

But it is true, we are all here on this earth to become more alive, more connected, more creative.

When a person puts chairs in trees at an art museum, it is certainly a creative endeavor, it may even be a tribute to a North Carolina natural resource and industry, but it isn’t, in my opinion, art. Where is the aesthetic? Where is the skill in creating the aesthetic?

In the West, it is so difficult to talk about what is aesthetic / what is art, because we have no tradition; we have no reference. The question of aesthetic — what is aesthetic or isn’t — is a lively (or deadly) topic among friends. But without a tradition, it cannot be defined and, like discussing politics at Thanksgiving dinner, the subject is best dropped without hope of resolution.

My abundantly-creative Windsor-chairmaker son (he built his first lathe with a wooden spring-pole; his second with an old washing machine motor), and an exquisite turner (see the dance of his turning skew at the lathe), asserts that he absolutely would rather not be called an artist.

He is correct, he is a fine craftsman not an artist. But the cause of his abhorrence for the term is not fine. The cause: the widespread modern misuse of the term artist. Sad story … his mother is an artist.

P.S. Please see Angela Elmore’s reponse to this post. She highlights an even more important point:

Children should not be expected to be artists! This is a set up for failure should this talent or tendency not be in their nature.

Nurture creativity, and expose children to many forms of art — certainly! But there is no need to say “You are a child, you must be an Artist!” This may turn out to be untrue, and their creativity may indeed lie elsewhere.

Diane Katz, is a book designer, artist and illustrator.

Diane can be reached at 800.723.0336

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