Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Hunt for Creativity, Pt. 1

 The Nine Muses do a Jazz Improvisation for Apollo

They say when you write once a day everything's important, but when you write once a year, nothing's important. When I started this blog, I was sure that I'd be attacking it at least weekly, but that has so far not turned out to be the case. There's the temptation to want to be witty erudite, creative and/or inspirational in one of these blogs. I often wonder where people derive their inspiration. The author Neil Gaiman, one of my heroes, did a tongue-in-cheek interview at the back of the DVD "Coraline", where it's mentioned that he gets his inspiration from the black leather jacket he always wears. Well, why not? It has to come from somewhere.

However, I'm not talking about the inspiration to do a particular piece of work. That could come from anywhere. A bit of flotsam on the beach, the causual remark from a stranger, some boiling oatmeal. I'm more talking about the general creativity that cant' stop turning these events into something amazing. I've got no idea where my creativity comes from.

In Greek mythology it was the Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who inspired the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of knowledge, as well as the inspiration for turning into an artistic output.

For a more scientific approach Peter Carruthers (2002) wrote a paper "Human creativity: its evolution, its cognitive basis, and its connection with childhood pretense." where he argued that the same cognitive resources are shared by adult creatve thinking and probelm-solving as children when they pretend play. He suggests that it's what got our species over the gap from our first appearance 100,000 years ago in Southern Africa to the "creative explosion" that endabled cultures to form about 60,000 years ago. So if that's the case, we're creative as a survival strategy.

Sounds plausible. Ironically, it's obliquely similar to the Muse story. An external force comes - devine or evolutionary - down and makes us creative. (I could acually use Callipoe now to help out with some writing...) When we are creating, say improvising jazz (this has been the subject of study), we use the same brain circuitry as when we dream, switching off inhibitions. After that, self-expression kicks in(the same place in the brain we make autobiographical stories) and our senses are heightened.

But all of this doesn't actually explain the impetus to create. We're down out of the trees, in comfortable lives, yet broadly speaking, we're still fixated on making things. From my own experience, I can't not create. It's something that bubbles out of me (artesian spring or overflowing beer - take your pick) I don't think I've cracked it yet, but I'll keep working on it. Meanwhile, maybe Calliope will buy me a leather jacket - I've got work to do!

1 comment:

  1. "Calliope’s Leather Jacket” wouldn't be a bad band name…