The purpose and inspiration of creativity have been much discussed lately. From the environment best suited to creativity, to the personalities intrinsically most creative, to the process most nurturing toward creativity, we seem, as a culture, to be especially concerned with the world of inspiration these days. Perhaps it is a direct consequence of the media attention around US students’ seemingly dismal displays in math and science, increasing standardization in education and public schooling, or the recent early passing of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, but whatever the reason, creativity is a buzz word today, again.
That said, it was with skepticism that I listened to NPR’s Robert Siegel interview author Jonah Lehrer on his new book, Imagine; How Creativity Works. Much of what they talked about is not new, in fact, Susan Cain’s latest, Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking discussed many of the same ideas about environment and interaction, but the end of the interview was poignant for me. Discussing creativity and the presumption of originality, Lehrer says, “The brain is just an endless knot of connections. And a creative thought is simply… a network that’s connecting itself in a new way. Sometimes it’s triggered by a misreading of an old novel. Sometimes it’s triggered by a random thought walking down the street, or bumping into someone in the bathroom of the studio. There are all sorts of ways seemingly old ideas can get reassembled in a new way.” In terms of art, in fact, these are the most powerful creative ideas, the ones that are imbued with the strength of cultural resonance. These are the works that allow a Jungian resonance within us based on our common knowledge of their antecedents. As an artist I am constantly pulling from things that I’ve read or seen, and always I am worried about connecting too directly to a source. Ultimately, however, the process of creativity, the necessary filtering through the artist’s individual mind and hand, transfuses the work, permeating it with originality.
As a gallery-goer and writer, I am constantly asserting my own readings of works (such as in my recent discussion of The Ungovernables on LA-Art-Theory.com). I realize in this forum and researching other audience interpretations, that for a million different viewers there are a million different views. We each bring something to a work, including the specific images and words we have consumed throughout our lives, and through that didactic experience we each take something different to use later. This “misreading” as Lehrer frames it, or individualized reading, is what informs the creative impulse.Nothing is made in a vacuum.
An extreme example, Levine photographed reproductions of Walker’s Evans’ well-known images, asserting herself as a quintessential feminist postmodernist.