Saturday, October 09, 2010

On Being Creative

If one change I wish to make in my life, it will be to be able to give more time to my creative pursuits - primarily my reading, writing and efforts in photography - than I manage to do now. The reason is straightforward: I have realised that I am not a bureaucrat or a businessman at heart, and the one thing that gives me pleasure is to do something truly new or creative, including encountering a new idea or meaning of things that I never came across before.

In a way, I have always sought to live a creative life, but never managed to. The primary reason is that I defined what is meant by success wrongly. Like most others in my suburban neighbourhood and inner city school, success for me variably meant a car, a glamorous girlfriend, being able to travel outside my country's borders and having my own house. This last one, having own house, joined the list only later in my life, but this is more representative of the problem that I faced: It is one straight road from mortgage to mediocrity, but the other bits of dream equally hinged on getting a city job, though the term meant different things at different phases of my life. All this demanded conformance, following orders or others, not asking questions, discovering or seeking: One had to leave creativity back home to be successful.

But, I came across Robert Frost quite early in life and decided to take the road 'less travelled by'. The only problem is that I did not commit myself fully, keeping my eye on the more popular road all the time. As a result, my life was awkward and half-hearted most of the time, as was my writing, photography and even the sporadic nature of my reading. Someone, somewhere along the line, convinced me that a creative life is a standalone thing, which can be postponed and returned to when the other businesses of life have been attended to. So while I vigorously disagreed with the notion that only a few people among us can be truly creative - believing in universal creative instinct in effect - my own thinking about 'creative conditions' demanded a certain kind of life, only to be afforded by those who paid the wagers of traditional success (or were born into success).

It is the act of this blog writing, mostly undirected random thoughts presented without editing, allowed me to 'feel' two hitherto unexplored aspects of creativity. The first was about the nature of creativity: Instead of being about the outcome, something new and beautiful, being creative is about the process, the journey. In fact, one does not have to necessarily produce anything to be creative, because one can be creative in terms of searching for an answer, understanding what exists in a new way. As Eric Bohm puts it - the scientific enquiry, aimed at discovering the inner order and logical structure of things around us, is essentially creative, because it searches for truth, which is inherently beautiful. Taking that argument a step farther, any search, the discontents with mediocrity, with the unoriginality of the life handed down to us, are all creative acts. So, while I waited for my creative moment and inspiration, and kept writing this blog, I was being creative all the while. Being creative is, therefore, not a phase or a condition, but a process and a way of life.

The second realization relates to the conditions of creativity. Partly convinced into this by Steven Johnson, but also from my own experiences on this blog and elsewhere, being creative is a social act. Far from being something to be pursued in solitary abandon of an ideal condition, which can be achieved only through considerable fortune or luck, creative thoughts and endeavours come to us from our liquid networks, people that we mingle and converse with, online and offline, friends we keep, flirtations that we indulge in and family that we live within. Again, this is something the blog writing taught me about: The creative process is not just typing in a few words, but expecting a conversation: Indeed, it is about searching for one. Building on from the 'discontent' theory of creativity, I am tempted to say that creativity isn't an internal, private process, but the essential process of connecting with the world, understanding and expressing the truth (or truths) interleaved in things and relationships around us. There is beauty, and God, in the world around us, and searching and participating and being part of this inherently creative process of living among others denote the essential notion of being creative.

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