“God said to the almond tree, ‘Sister, speak to me of Love.’
And the almond tree blossomed.”
In a talk I heard James Hillman give at the Institute of Art in Education, in London, many years ago, he made an important point I have never forgotten about the need not to conflate creativity with productivity.
Of course, it is often the case that there is a noticeable pleasing effect when someone or something or a group is creative. Sometimes when someone is creative the by-product is a painting, a sculpture, or piece of music. Or, to take the brief even wider – creativity may result in an amazing garden, a palace, a funky pair of trainers, a piece of jewellery.
But we need to be cautious, Hillman argued, that we never make creativity and productivity entirely synonymous. For if we do, we bring a post-Industrial, mechanised, ‘Gradgrind’-like perspective, and ask only what some creative process or endeavour is good for? What does it achieve or earn or garner for its creator or its creators?
And this type of thinking is actually the kiss of death to the deep creativity which has a direct connection, a kind of tap root, to the power of the collective imagination; which can open to archetypal energies and requires the ego, the purely conscious/rational mind, to just take a back seat and let something bigger and wiser and more in tune with the ancestors and that which is not-only-modern-and-human, to come through and be made manifest.
Anyone who has been blessed enough to feel ‘in the flow’ as they write, draw, cook, compose, design a lesson, make something come to life, will know that at those times they are really just a conduit for some elan vitale that doesn’t come through us because we want it to, or because it is convenient for us to summon it.
Similarly, if you have ever agreed to create something for a deadline and then had the dreadful awareness that inspiration is not there, and that the creative juices just aren’t flowing, you will know the awful sensation of a sinking heart and a dull brain as we sit and stare into space, chewing our pen, or tempted to pick up our phone and scroll through it to distract ourselves.
Creativity, says Hillman, should be celebrated not as a means to some end – a novel, a haiku, a song – but as a force that is simply a good in itself: a force of nature, without which life would be colourless, stagnant, lacking in soul and depth.
And crucially, he also argued, over 20 years ago, one of the most vital ways to ensure that we have a capacity to be open to creativity is: to spend time in nature; most urgently when we are children, but also throughout our life.
At this time of year, when crocuses are poking through after the cold, dark, gloomy days of winter months, and daffodils abound in so many civic spaces, to delight our eyes with their wealth of yellow, orange, lemon, gold, and honey tones, it is not hard to see how much we need that which the non-human parts of our world offer, to nourish and restore us.
Sarah Van Gogh
Image thanks to Mike Lumber