All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
– From Endymion by John Keats
When I decided to create this blog, I wrote a list of all the potential topics I could think of in the moment on which I would like to write. I didn’t want to start a blog only to find I have nothing to say! From this list I discovered I do have plenty to say (surprise), and I also noticed a disproportionate number of ideas had to do not with exploring spirituality, but creativity.
Initially this made perfect sense, as my immediate assumption is that spirituality (to include a belief in some form of divinity, higher power, spirit allies, conscious universal energy, etc.) and creativity are obviously linked. I like to challenge my assumptions though, considering you never really know if they are true for you, or just an echo of someone else’s beliefs, until you question and explore them.
There are plenty of incredibly creative individuals who are atheists, and that fact alone gives me reason to question my assumption. Pablo Picasso, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vincent van Gogh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gore Vidal, Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. Le Guin… all atheists. If we assume creativity is linked to and possibly even informed by spirituality, how do we explain these brilliant creatives?
On the most basic level, atheism is defined as lack of belief in deities or the supernatural. Atheists are not unbelievers; to an atheist there are no gods in which to believe in the first place. From that initial point of agreement spring as many different kinds of atheists as there are pagans, with at least some who acknowledge a natural, immanent power at work in every thing. This sounds to me quite like what many pagans believe.
In “Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power” Eric Steinhart explains that because it is universal, natural creative power is abstract, and because it is an abstraction and not a thing, it’s fair game for atheists to affirm. Later, he goes on to explain the function of natural creative power:
“Natural creative power participates in explanatory relations: Why is there something rather than nothing? Because the natural creative power of being must be; it cannot fail to create; it necessarily generates.”
A ubiquitous, mysterious force impelled and impelling to create, to bring into being? Hmm, sounds familiar.
Of course, this is not to say that any of the aforementioned creatives supported or support any such philosophy, but it does speak to the idea of creativity coming from somewhere other than our own determination as a more inclusive concept than not.
I think if I were an atheist I would have a difficult time accepting a natural creative power without answering the why of it. Why would such a force, lacking conscious will such as we would attribute to deity, create? This is probably one of the reasons I am not an atheist, as my opinion on this is that without conscious will, there would be no reason to create. And if we attach conscious will to natural creative power, we have deity, or something quite like it.
Call it an abstraction, or relate to it as a being or beings with conscious will, it is clear to me that a spiritual force exists – independent of our belief. That decided, I find that instead of asking:
“Is there a link between spirituality and creativity?”
A more meaningful question is:
“What is the link between spirituality and creativity?”
Exploring some comparisons of definition helps to provide an answer:
Spirituality is a search for meaning in life; creativity is a process of experiencing meaning.
Spirituality is a means for recognizing and relating to The Mystery – the dimension to the world that is beyond surface appearances or the ability to fully describe using language; creativity provides a method for deepening this relationship, often finding ways to express it circuitously, as in metaphor, music, and movement.
Spirituality is concerned with growth and transformation through observation, intention and practice; creativity facilitates this process, demanding our awareness, will and prolonged attention, pushing us to move beyond ourselves.
My understanding, then, is quite simply that creativity comes from and is an agent of spirituality, which is constantly seeking to move through us, expressing itself in symbol and form.
I think this is an important idea to keep in mind for anyone who has ever felt a desire to create but squashed it, telling themselves they would never be very good at it, aren’t talented enough, don’t have any original ideas, are too old to start, wouldn’t know where to start, or aren’t an artist, therefore cannot create. Despite modern western culture practically eliminating everyday access to the creative arts by placing the emphasis on art as commodity, valuing only art that sells, the process of making art is a path of discovery, a journey that has no true end. As such, it is not the exclusive domain of professional artists.
The process is what matters, not the outcome. The journey, not the destination.
As with a spiritual practice, we never arrive, but rather are always discovering, absorbing, unfolding, deepening.
It follows that the exploration and development of our spiritual path and practices is also a development of ourselves as channels for spirit to flow and express through. And in turn, by engaging in the creative process we deepen our ability to understand and live our spirituality.
Hopefully my burgeoning readership is as interested in this process as I am, as apparently I will be writing a great deal about it!