Friday, June 18, 2010

Creativity and suffering

A response from my friend and Creative Skills Training Council colleague, Ralph Kerle.

The article from the Birmingham Post should be read in context. It deals with the age old conundrum of the meaning of creativity for artists v creativity for the entrepreneur and in a sense they are at either ends of the spectrum – the artist wants to produce work not for a market specifically but usually as a form of self expression. If somebody wants to buy the work, great but that is not the artist’s prime consideration. Entrepreneurs on the other hand use their creativity for commercial gain i.e. they want to find artistic products they can sell for profit and for which there is a market. Tension in this context occurs when artist meets entrepreneur and says to entrepreneur just sell my product and entrepreneur says there is no market for it, change the product. Both suffer as a consequence.

However, in the 70’s as a result of the punk movement and its inventor Malcolm McLaren the entrepreneurial class and anyone else who declared themselves an artist could suddenly become one. McLaren declared artistic war on the culture elites, the cognoscenti and the academe and broke down the barrier between fine art and popular culture. His success was he made epic pop art that captured both academic and mainstream audiences and made lots of money out doing that because he was first and foremost a businessman. And he suffered because of it, not trusted by either side (and this is a common theme with ground breaking artists from all ages).

What emerged out of this revolution was a class of aspiring artist/managers and academics, who could now legitimately work in the arts advising artists who had neither knowledge of economics, markets or profits nor of the theory of their art and this potpourri of none-practising aspiring artist/managers and artistic academics have now happily congregated under the Church of Creative Industries.

My sense is the writer of the article is expressing the usual exasperation's at trying to make artists understand the simple elements of a free-market capitalist system. i.e. branding, marketing plans etc whether they want to understand or not. Some artists simply do not want to be involved in having their “product” marketed.

So that in my view is what the author is talking about in the article when she discusses her suffering. More its about her frustrations….

However there is some work starting to come out about how artists think and work from the neuro-scientific field that shed some light on the notion of the artist suffering for their art metaphor. Jonah Lehrer’s book Proust was A Neuroscientist is particularly worth reading around this topic. In the book he describes how the life and practice of artists such as Cezanne, Stein, Schonberg, Virgina Wolfe, Proust assisted neuroscientists in understating how the brain thinks creatively. Each artist studied is recognised as having made major breakthroughs in the practice in their particular art form and the particular mental anguish they went through to achieve these breakthroughs. Lehrer chronicles each artists mental suffering either as a result of their attempt to make breakthroughs in their practice or as the way the artist used their mental disorder to influence their artistic practice.

An article I read just this week Creative Minds Mimic Schizophrenia from BBC News, shed more light for me on this’s an extract…

"Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror."

Mark Millard UK psychologist believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark.

This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss. Schizophrenics share this same ability to make novel associations. But in schizophrenia, it results in bizarre and disturbing thoughts.

UK psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society Mark Millard said the overlap with mental illness might explain the motivation and determination creative people share.

"Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives them on to make changes.

"Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way. "There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. “

He then uses Salvador Dali’s work as an example..

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