Our lives require perpetual interpretation – this is simply an inescapable fact. But this is a truth we can only academically comprehend, because a life in a constant state of cognitive interpretation is untenable . . . that way lie madness. So invariably we create a shorthand in our understanding of our lives, a shorthand in our knowing of everything. Then we maintain a paradigm that largely affirms this shorthand knowing, so that we might be able to focus on one thing at a time. So like a magnetic field this paradigm keeps our lives from breaking apart into a thousand pieces, from being pulled in a thousand different directions. But the creative process is a disruption in the compression of that magnetic field – allowing our lives to breathe just a little.
In the creative process, an artist doesn’t actually create something new, as in ex nihilo (out of nothing), because there is really nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), but only offers us an alternate interpretation, another way of knowing our world. It is an invitation to let go of our normal interpretations, if only for a moment, and remember something we’d likely forgotten – that our lives have far subtler shades of meaning.
Now consider this, because God speaks us into existence, and we are created in the image of a creator – creativity is the original ancient language that we all speak. So whether I am creating something, or in the presence of something created (speaking this ancient language, or just listening) – I am stirred by a compunction, drawn into the mystery, to catch a glimpse of God’s hand teasing the air. It is as if in this sacred dialog I can sense creation extending out, making something new out of what has already been.
Now you may be thinking “I’m not artistic at all – I can’t do any of the clever things my creative friends can do.” And this is exactly where most people misunderstand the creative process, imagining that being artistic is about having technical skill sets in a given medium — but art is far more conceptual than that, so in this regard, medium is incidental to being artistic. Because if creativity is the ancient language, as I have already suggested, then the question isn’t — “how do I speak?”, because you are already speaking — whether you know it or not. No, the better question is “what do I have to say?”
It’s an expanding universe. There is so much to interpret, so much hidden in the details, so much to be set free – and it’s all around you . . . waiting for your response. The truth is we spend so much time just skimming across the surface, in the perfunctory movement of our own expectations, never contemplating the profound thought that we are afloat above a great deep — it never occurs to us that we might sound those depths . . . by diving in.
Immersion is the method most language studies recommend for becoming fluent in an unfamiliar language – that in the exercise of listening for the patterns and following the context, you can begin to piece together a comprehension of what’s being said . . . and then eventually join in the conversation — this is exactly how I think someone learns to be more creative. Sure, you’ll be making small talk at first, but before you know it you’ll find your own voice, speak in your own dialect . . . then the next thing you know, you’ll be inviting others to see what lies just beneath the surface of this vast deep.
This Bruce Cockburn song has always struck me as a wonderfully exhilarating imagining of God creating the world.