A World of Speculation

The Courage to Create

Rollo May takes on the psychological and social aspects of the artistic process in The Courage to Create. This is a brief rundown of the points that struck a chord with me.

He begins by defining courage, and he points out a paradox of courage: “we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong.”

In Chapter 3, he talks about “Creativity and the Unconscious.” The artist slogs uphill and against the wind, then rests, then slogs some more. Mysteriously, between the slog and the rest (or the rest and the slog), the answer comes. More than just the item that plugs into the hole, it’s an “elegant,” a beautiful answer, even in mathematics, where many of us are surprised to hear of an “elegant” answer. But of course it always works out that way; after much work and struggle, the answer comes at the end of a nap. It’s tempting to skip the struggle and just nap, hoping that the answer is burbling in the background. Wrong. The struggle is what stirs up the burble.

“Creativity and Encounter” picks up an idea that Owen Barfield explores more fully–that the perceiving mind constructs the perceived reality. Here, May talks mostly about the mind of the artist, who encounters the world and distills a vision of it, a new way of seeing it, for the audience. He quotes a Chinese poet: “We poets struggle with Nonbeing to force it to yield to Being. We knock upon silence for an answering music.”

He also talks about the importance of limits to the creative process. If the sky is the limit, then the artist really can’t work. It’s only within strictures that art can take form. This is something the hero of my novel wants to approach–she will find fulfillment working with high-school live theatre, more than she found in the movies. (It’s not an indictment against the movies, but a way to illustrate this idea.)

Good book.