Do you need to be messed up to be creative? Do you need to endure some form of suffering before you can really express yourself ‘creatively?’ Look at some of the great artists and you will find they were all nutters. Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gough, Picasso… Just to name a few. What came first, was it the detachment from reality that led to incredible works of art or was it the tapping into something deep and greater than themselves that led to incredible artistic expression but also caused side effects of them turning slightly kooky?
Personally, I think that creativity is spawn out of an ability to view the world objectively and allow abstract thought. As humans, we have an ability to adopt a heightened sense of self and look at the world, ourselves and the universe objectively. We’re able to remove our sense of consciousness from our own self-indulged, biased and cluttered view and instead, adopt a more heightened and perhaps evolved and holistic view. All of us experience this to an extent. Usually, it’s when we sense ourselves craving something more or contemplating the meaning of life or the universe. This ability of abstract thought is one of the main things that separate us from animals. However, have we as humans evolved enough from animals to be able to truly handle this gifted capability? The ability to think original, abstract thought as well as contemplate our sense of self can be a deep, dark place to dive into. Maybe, artists who delve so deeply into this realm find themselves lost in a shapeless world that is still beyond human comprehension.
However, it seems that detachment from reality is a necessary part of creative thought. So, to be truly creative the artist must have a heightened and well-exercised objective self and delve regularly into the abstract realm to express himself through art. Perhaps, it becomes dangerous when this objective self is not only awakened but is also given so much attention. This heightened, objective and abstract self becomes a muse for reflection and creation but, at the same time, this makes the artist a little crazy. The abstract realm becomes like a dormant, inspirational, but destructive muse… It must be kept under control.
We are delving into territories of consciousness our secular world does not yet truly understand. The Western world does not cater well for such abstract thinking and this can cause people to suffer from an array of mental problems. Really, the only avenue to express such thought is in creative arts as there is no other arena in which to vent in Western countries such as Australia, as there really is no deep ceremonial culture or tradition for us as Anglo-Australians, to be able to identify with. I travel the world to countries like India with their deep traditions and then come home to the spoiled teenager that is Australia. This is when a lack of culture and identity becomes glaringly obvious… and people wonder why we have the problems we do.
A lack of avenue for creative expression may seem unimportant but, looking back on history a very interesting pattern emerges. In many ancient cultures, there has been a ceremonial process for transition. Especially for boys to become men or girls to become women in which a clear and distinct rite of passage has been used as a vehicle for transition or expression of inner self. The particular theme of these traditions is the shedding of the old in order to become a ‘new’. In some tribal communities, boys would go through a ‘hazing’ process where they are given drugs to induce an almost hypnotic state then given new names and forced to stay in places with no food or water for days as their mothers would kneel outside wailing for the ‘death’ of their son.
After this, they were considered men, simple as that. Whilst this is a drastic extreme, what vehicle is there in modern Western society for such emersion of a new self or shedding of the old? In modern society, people go through the ‘dark’ teen years with piercing, drugs, alcohol, risky behaviour and identification with gangs or groups. This is very similar to the ancient hazing process. It’s as if there is something in us, something innate that make people feel the need to harm themselves, self-mutilate or take risks in search for something new… A new identity. In countries like Australia, we’re fortunate that life can be pretty easy however, it’s like there’s something within us that needs to endure suffering in order to transition. The extreme of this of course being suicide where it could be argued that the urge to kill off the old and become a new is so strong that it becomes literal. Is there a reason why Australia has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world?
Even in ancient times, perhaps artists would go mad because they had awakened themselves to such a heightened extent but their world was not yet ready for them. The great artists and philosophers of the time became recluses and withdrew from society unable to express themselves in any other way but through their art and were simply made outcasts and even killed by ancient cultures… Their ideas deemed ‘too radical, insane or against the church of the time’. Even the idea that the earth was not flat was considered insanity by most as was the notion that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.
Is creativity dangerous? Perhaps it can be. However, I think that as long as we express what we find in the hidden depths of our soul and we don’t end up spending night after night with a bruised and worn out objective muse that keeps us within our own head, then no. I think transition and some detachment from reality is necessary for creative thought.
However, I think that as traditions and cultures continue to get diluted in the modern global world, we may see people turning to some interesting ways to express themselves creatively and try and get in touch with their enlightened self. Or, maybe the world will evolve to a point where open free creative expression is normal and revered as a healthy form of expression rather than simply hung on gallery walls or voiced through the crackle of beaten stereo systems in a teenagers bedroom through hard rock as our youth struggle for a sense of self, culture and a framework for transition.