Reflection by Danielle Webber, 18 March 2018
Last week our service talked about the many different pathways to creativity. Chloe spoke about how creativity could be a person’s “thing” that dance had become her thing, when she was quite young, and although she had attempted to draw and engage her creativity in different ways, it was always the dancing that kept calling her back. She argued that everyone did not need to have a “thing.” That we all ought to engage the many ways that we can be creative and enjoy the many different possibilities. And when you think about creativity in this way, of have your own special “thing”, it creates this isolation of creativity, that people who are really good at something are the only ones who can be creative. Or perhaps it is that only people who are truly creative are those who have an undying passion, or people who need to be creative, else their passion will over run their lives. Many artists have famously fit into this category – Ludwig Van Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and perhaps John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
These people can all be called mentally unstable, obsessive, passionate and prolific. Artists and creators who have succumb to the passion, desire and need of the creativity within them.
Now I am not saying all of this to suggest that Chloe is going to become one of these creative individuals, remember she said at the end of her reflection that being creative does not demand that we put everything into our craft, and that although she has a tendency to jump into things with her entire being she also has many passions.
What I am arguing is that there is a cultural perception that individuals who are creative, who are truly the greatest at their craft, and who will wow the world with their productions, are often labeled mad. A thing that has a pretty negative connotation for the rest of the world.
There is another stereotype of the creative individual, one in which their talent is handed down to them from up on high, from God, or the great creator, or some other such entity, or ideal. These are the people have spiritual practices connected to their creations, such as Michelangelo, St. Francis of Assisi, Viktor Frankl, Mel Gibson, Starhawk, Dante Alighieri, Buffy St. Marie, Deepak Chopra and Miguel Ruiz. Indeed, I talked about my creativity as a spiritual practice last week. Not only my creative love of knitting, but also my writing practices, for sermons, meditations, and my own journaling practices almost always have a spiritual component to them.
But are these two Stereotypes helpful? As with many cases, these stereotypes confine our concepts of creativity. It oversimplifies our understanding of artists and pathways to creativity. Our stereotypes around creativity and artists can been incredibly damaging to our own ability to be creative. One does not need to believe that all artists are crazy in order to believe that over all artists are unstable. And if this is what we believe about Artists and creativity then we will likely not practice our creativity because we cannot offer the amount of time that this type of creativity requires.
Similarly, if one believes that in order to be creative talent must come from outside, a gift from God or the divine, then those people who perceive themselves as having no talent would believe they could not be a great artist or have creative talent.
Stereotypes can be such problematic things in our lives. Demanding specific requirements of ourselves, and trapping others into specific roles. In Social Psychology a stereotype is any thought that is widely adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of behaving… these thoughts or believes may or may not accurately reflect reality.
I believe that another stereotype that plays into the understanding of our creative abilities has to do with something that our religious forefathers believed about human kind, but which Unitarians and Universalists gave up when they started protesting the practices of the church 450 years ago. This is the stereotype of the nature of humanity, and the nature of individual human beings being innately good or bad.
At the root of Christianity is the idea that human beings are not in heaven celebrating and living along side God, because they have sinned, and they have been born with sin tainting them. In the story of Christianity, and all of the Abrahamic faiths, human beings are innately bad, and must ask for forgiveness in order to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. Now this is a very limited scope of Christian theology, but accurate nonetheless. However, this theology is not limited to the faiths that believe in Abraham as a spiritual patriarch. Buddhist traditions require the practitioner to release themselves from suffering, or the cessation of attachment. In order to enter Nirvana, Buddhists must liberate themselves from desire, an innate human condition, that makes humans innately bad. These are all very similar to the Hindu faith as well, although distinctly different when discussions of divine beings are engaged, practitioners of Hinduism also believe that humans are innately bad.
I believe that this concept of the human condition has created a stereotype that has caused significant harm. It has denied the belief of intrinsic goodness for all. It has caused many of us to want to do, to be better, to strive for excellence, to feel a denial of perfection, an inability to achieve goodness, and a general incompetency. I wonder if this stereotype, this understanding of the human condition has spilled over into our understanding of creativity, and who can be an artist. These notions of good and bad, right and wrong, can and can’t have been wrecking havoc on individuals and their creativity for millennia. However, Unitarian Universalism denied these stereotypes, and instead claim a theology that the human condition is good, that each person has worth and dignity, and back when our theology was much more Christian, we believed that all human beings were going to go to heaven. The theology of our faith, explicitly states that all humans are good. Not that all humans have the capacity to be good, if they work really hard at it or do certain tasks, and prayers. But that all humans are good.
I believe that the same goes for humans’ creative capacities. There is this constant dialogue telling us that in order to be any good creatively then you will have this un-ebbing desire, a passion that won’t be doused, a need to practice non-stop, to the point of madness. The concept of having to work really hard at our creativity, to accomplish certain tasks and speak certain prayers and then we will be able to become creative human beings. Either we do good works, and practice for ever, or we have a natural born talent, we manage to be of the selected few who are chosen. Whether you are Vincent Van Gogh or Viktor Frankl, Albert Einstein or Dante Alighieri, you are still apart of the “haves” group, the good ones. There is still this distinction that others people into the “have nots” or the bad artists.
Do you think that it would be possible to translate our theology, the Unitarian Universalist understanding of the Human Condition, into a new understanding of creativity?
One in which requires that every person is innately creative. Where every artist’s creations have worth? Where every creator could expect dignity?
I believe that this is true. I believe that each person here does not need to practice their creativity, they just need to engage it. I believe that no matter how often you engage it, or you don’t, you still have the capability to do it. Each of us in this room have the capability of creating. Whether it is planting a seedling, and watching it grow, to creating a beautiful piece of art, or cooking up a delicious stew you are creating something. You could be writing a lecture plan, preparing an experiment, organizing a library, or care for the sick you are being creative.
Creativity is not a skill that can be taught, practiced, mastered and coveted. Creativity is a condition of being human. Each and every human being has the capacity to create, we are all born with it; just as we are all born good. Perhaps these things are not easy to hear. Perhaps they go against all of the stereotypes that you have heard and you have come to believe. About creativity, about your abilities to create, art or music or dance, or food, or writing or designing. Perhaps this goes against all that you believe about yourself. That there is something bad, or wrong within you, that you feel called to fix, or make up for, or do penance for. There is going to be a learning curve. Just like there is when unlearning any other stereotype. But we can get there together.
Let’s start next week, when we get to create together during our regular service time. Or right now. Let’s create music now. We are going to sing song #1019 – Everything possible, Maider is going to come forward to explain, but just follow her lead.