Tag Archives: Plato

Rollo May’s “The Nature of Creativity,” Part 1

Last night, I got up around 1 a.m., as I was having trouble sleeping. I started reading from where I had left off with Rollo May‘s The Courage to Create. Very interested in the creative process and the act of creativity, the nuts and bolts behind it. It’s been on my storyboard for a while. Who better to talk about it than May in his piece, The Nature of Creativity? His style is readable and engaging. Published in 1959, his writing is food for the soul, every bit as relevant now. A psychologist, May does use jargon from his field; however, it in no way deflects from the intent of his words. In addition, he was a painter himself, so he’s not talking about art without firsthand experience. Earlier today, as I was out running errands, I decided to share it with you. In today’s post, he defines creativity. Later, he addresses the creative process, the intensity of creative encounter, and how that encounter relates to the world. I believe that we must look beyond the act and consider the process. It informs our work and strengthen us.  “When we define creativity, we must make the distinction between its pseudo forms, on the one hand—that is, creativity as a superficial aestheticism,” wrote May.  “And, on the other, its authentic form—that is, the process of bringing something new into being. The crucial distinction is between art as artificiality (as in “artifice” or “artful”) and genuine art.” He said that such distinctions have been contentious for artists and philosophers through the ages. Using Plato as an example, he said the philosopher demoted artists and poets “down to the sixth circle of reality” because they did not deal with reality but appearances, that art was only decoration and “a way of making life prettier.” He contrasted this demotion with Plato’s later writings in the Symposium. In it, Plato made a 180 degree turn, saying that true artists are those who birth  new realities. May said that, according to Plato, poets and creative people “are the ones who express being itself.” I am not sure why Plato’s view changed so markedly, as I yet to research it. Alternately, May contends that true artists “are the ones who enlarge human consciousness.” He also said a most beautiful thing: “Their creativity is the most basic manifestation of a man or woman fulfilling his or her own being in the world.” He does make a clear distinction. May does not include hobbyists or weekend artists…those who are simply “filling up leisure time.” May laments that “nowhere has the meaning of creativity been more disastrously lost than in the idea that it is something you do only on week ends.” You may think this smacks of elitism, but May’s true artists are fully engaged in the creative process. Countering different schools of thought, he claimed that the creative process should not be explored “as the product of sickness,” referring to those who deemed it neuroses. Instead, May said the creative process represents “the highest degree of emotional health, as the expression of the normal people in the act of actualizing themselves.” He spoke to both the creativity of scientist and artist, “in the thinker as well as in the aesthetician.” Further, he says we can’t rule out the extent to which it is “present in captains of modern technology as well as in a mother’s normal relationship with her child.” To May, “creativity, as Webster’s rightly indicates, is basically the process of making, of bringing into being.”

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