Living Art


I had planned to review one of my favorite books, Prodigal Summer, this time, but after Beth’s comments about my previous post, I wanted to elaborate on some related thoughts that came up. So I’m saving Prodigal for next time.
In the late 60’s I was an elementary school teacher. Fostering creativity was a big issue in those days, and in my county a program was instigated to address it. Basically, the children chosen to participate went to a special site for a day where they collaborated in small groups with other students of similar ages and abilities to find creative solutions to a challenging task. Sort of like a duplicate bridge tournament.
While this program was stimulating and prodded kids to think outside the box, I always thought it missed the mark somehow. It taught great social skills like leadership and cooperation, and it encouraged brain-storming and problem-solving, but all this was just good teaching. How did it address creativity in ways that were not already being used by fine teachers?
But our school system had done its best and I had nothing to add to the situation, so I figured this was just one of those problems without a solution. Maybe nobody understood creativity. Maybe there really was no practical way to teach it. Maybe it was just a matter of genetics, some characteristic of DNA with which you either were or weren’t furnished at birth.
Several years later when my own creativity began to blossom I finally understood. At bottom, creativity is not a function of our proficiency with the objective logos skills emphasized in most classrooms, but of our ego’s willingness to use these skills in service to our deeply personal mythos realities: things like what feels important, how we yearn to spend our free time, or what brings a deep sense of accomplishment. For example, one of my earliest memories is of trying to write a book on folded pieces of paper. Since I was only four years old and didn’t know how to write yet, I drew pictures instead. But while my passion for writing persisted throughout my school years, few teachers noticed it and nobody ever encouraged me to pursue it.
The problem is, most kids are too busy trying to learn what their parents and teachers want them to learn and most schools are run more like factories than forums for individual exploration and expression. As Einstein wrote, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
The psychological realities of each soul are as unique as our fingerprints. Creativity is about manifesting that uniqueness. We activate our creativity by pursuing self-knowledge and personal meaning. We hone our creativity by following our passions regardless of the world’s opinions; by sacrificing popularity and approval for self-knowledge and authenticity; by creating original works of art out of our lives. By becoming who we are.
And how do we foster creativity in others? By mentoring them on the path to self-discovery. Until educators understand this, we will continue to be far better at stifling creativity than fostering it.

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0 Responses

  1. Dear One — You really hit it out of the park this morning. As the one who gave up her writing dreams because her submission to a school literary journal was rejected, I scramble to make up for lost time and don’t want my children and grand-children to fail to follow their passions. i am their cheerleader and it seems to be working as Lily excels in her acting and the little ones are all stretching their artistic talents.

  2. Dearest Betsy,
    You remind me how fragile the creative urge can be in a young person. Like the butterfly, it is so easily crushed by a careless act. Fred, who has much musical talent, was told by an aunt he’d never be a piano player because he had “webbed” fingers so he never touched a piano again. His fingers are no more webbed than mine, but there you go.
    It seems to me that the uniqueness of your soul comes out in many creative ways. You live and walk in beauty, explore exotic lands, nurture your family, friends, and community with passion, and are surrounded by people who love you. I would say you are already creating an original work of art out of your life and would encourage you to continue to pursue your writing dreams. One suggestion: Have you ever worked with your nightly dreams? Each insight you gain from them will help you know yourself and your song a bit better, and this is the stuff of poetry.
    Thank you for writing.
    Much love,

  3. jeanie,
    you’ve summarized my experiences and conclusions precisely. self-realization and creativity go hand-in-hand. the soul’s food is new experiences, which do not necessarily come from the outside. the realization (or exploration) of the self/soul is no less unbounded than the body’s exploration of the world.
    where, in other words, does the inner path lead?
    in my experience, it leads to the inner landscape, an environment as real as the outer. and just as necessary to the existence of the soul as the outer environment is to the body.
    this is a realm that is not easily described with words. but it is experienced via our first language: dreams. to those of us attuned to the one psyche, no one can fool us into thinking we are just indulging in our “imagination”. we have had a taste of the ever-new bubbling fountain of creation….
    from that point on, the intoxicated soul, thirsty for more of the gods’ nectar, there is only the creative act, poetry, art, music, the “making” that reveals the artist within each of us.
    we become, as you say, jeanie, living art.
    always such a pleasure to collaborate with you!

  4. William,
    I love your observation that “the soul’s food is new experiences.” I’ve never thought of the soul like that. So that’s why I’m such an avid inner archaeologist!
    Have you ever heard someone say, “Why can’t you just be happy with the way you are?” And once someone said to me, “To always be seeking new experiences is fickle.” Both comments hurt my soul and I’ve wondered about my addiction to exploring the inner landscape ever since. Thank you for clearing this up. From henceforth I shall be happily fickle!
    I also love your characterization of dreams as our first language that give us “a taste of the ever-new bubbling fountain of creation” and the reference to soul intoxication. You use such good words to express such deeply felt truths.
    Thank you so much for your always welcome comments. Your insights, and the way you express them, are very helpful.
    Still digging, still learning the words, still creating my magnum opus…

  5. Dear Jeanie… I am going to share this with my staff at the school!! It so nicely reflects the vision of Cherokee Creek Boys School! Our goal , as Yeats says,is “not to fill a pail but to light a fire” and to foster the inner lives of our children. Did you know that our slogan is “the journey of self-discovery begins here”? and that our program model is called “The Path”? Yes, it is critically important to find the child’s unique gift and honor that gift. Most of our kids arrive in some stage of trauma. We help the healing process by guiding them in self-knowledge and personal meaning.

  6. Dear Beth,
    You are someone very special. You are not blinded by the mist of conventional culture but have an intuitive radar that always hones in on the truth that lies beyond.
    I did not know your slogan and am deeply moved by the sameness of our visions. It’s one thing to follow that vision as an individual, but having the will and grit to manifest your vision in a way that actually transforms the lives of troubled young people makes you a spirit warrior who is a true blessing to the world. You have done this with your magnificent accomplishment at Cherokee Creek Boys School. How good it has been to share our paths for a time. We have learned so much from each other.
    With love and gratitude, dear sister,

  7. Jeanie –
    This is an important message. For teachers, parents, children, and friends. We can all nurture creativity in each other by listening, asking questions, giving thoughtful honest feedback.

  8. Susan,
    Absolutely. Thank you very much for pointing that out. And it takes a warm heart and a generous spirit to be able to step away from our own soul processes and ego needs long enough to genuinely attend to the processes and needs of others. This why we need to do enough inner work to start thinking psychologically. In fact, it’s the essential message of my blog. Because only by warming up our own hearts and understanding and accepting ourselves do we come to the point where we can treat others with the same gentle mentorship that has brought out the best in us. This is exactly what living spiritually means to me.
    You are one who has obviously done that work. It shows in everything you say and do.
    Blessings friend,

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