The Thing About Creation

cponte_brick_well(Marie Lambert)–A quick Google search for “quotes about creativity” will bring you 11,400,000 results in 0.12 seconds. From the amount of websites proclaiming “10 Quotes to Spark Your Inspiration” I take it I’m not the first one to turn to the Internet for help in this area. A quick perusal through the multitude of pages and quotations returns an interesting observation. The quotes available to me seem to polarize the nature of creativity on one of two ends of a spectrum of control: creativity either as a sense of letting go or as a sense of taking control.

Feeling:

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury

“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” ― Pablo Picasso

Acting:

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London

“From 30,000 feet, creating looks like art. From ground level, it’s a to-do list.” — Ben Arment

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try” – Dr. Seuss

You may question whether all of these quotations can be truly viewed as applicable and definitive of creativity per se, but regardless, they are not entirely dissimilar in theme.

So which is it? To properly harness my creativity, should I rely less on thought, “go with the flow,” simply feel? Or should I plan, think things through, do anything as long as it’s something?

The dual joy/problem of creativity has been on my mind frequently of late, mostly due to my classes this semester. I happen to be taking my second semester of photography as well as a Theatre and Dance/Music course on composing/writing text for music and vice versa. Both courses are listed as “Artistic practice” on AC Data, and while I’m so incredibly grateful to be enrolled in both of them, I fear that this semester will be very different from what I have be used to in the past.

Most of my high school career followed the fairly rigorous AP track solely for the purpose of reaching an elite college, and my previous three semesters at Amherst have been similarly challenging intellectually—albeit exclusively in the world of the humanities.

This semester, I decided to try something new. I didn’t exactly expect this semester to be easier just because my classes were more creatively than academically focused, but I did naively assume that there would be a certain amount or type of pressure lifted from me. In a way, this is true: I have fewer papers and virtually no exams to worry about now. But that work has been replaced by work of a different kind. Assignments for these classes seem to have less structure than I am accustomed to, and my work time outside of class has doubled. I find myself in the dark room developing and printing photos on four or five out of the six days a week it’s open. Today I spent two hours trying to finish a simple composition for my THDA/Music class. Finding inspiration for photography projects has been a struggle—and it’s only the third week of the semester.

I know that creativity is not a well full of water in the simplest sense of the metaphor—one does not draw from it and draw from it until one day there is nothing left to draw. I know that if anything, creativity is like a well in the way that some days it is very full and it is easy to pull up the bucket of inspiration, but other days it’s real work and takes forever and there’s not much worth using until the well is replenished naturally. I know these things to be true. But often what I know and what I feel are very different creatures, and the days when the well is low are difficult ones. And there is always that horrible fear in the back of your mind that says that this will be the day the well dries up for good.

Looking at this problem—lack of inspiration, frustration with the creative process—objectively, it seems like not a terribly pressing issue. After all, there are people working harder in fields they don’t even like, there are people who wish they could even be in college, there are people who have so little in life I am ashamed to even be admit that one of the things that keeps me up at night is worrying about the quality of my photography.

But when you live for those ecstatic moments of inspiration, when you feel most yourself after experiencing the joy of generating something from nothing, when sometimes the only meaning you can find in the world is through creation, when the very thought of a life without that joy is painful and empty, then this doesn’t seem like a small problem at all.

And so what do we do? Should we let think, or should we feel? Is creativity pulling up the bucket, or is it letting it go?