This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
tm. © 2007
I am also addressing this to those half dozen souls who have expressed grave concern for my intellectual balance. I find I get even more productive when people question my conclusions. One such comment sent me on a mission to distinguish for myself the difference between measuring creativeness in some quasi-scientific way in order to identify it and assessing it through perceptual processes. While I can not find either method totally satisfactory the following is the result of my effort. Actually, it was to a great extent the oft repeated assertion that all persons were creative (“to one extent or another”) and a cautious reaction to an earlier essay on aesthetics in which I attempted to make a case for the superiority of the nonobjective in art over the narrative, as Herbert Read might have expressed it “the formal over the informative” which has given birth to this present one. These two observations stewed for the twenty-one days it takes a chicken to hatch before the question “why?” could be formulated. The answer to that question is like the experience of trying to retrieve a dried leaf that has fallen into a mountain creek and is bobbing away amongst the rapids. First questions first. I believe it is by definition of terms and ONLY by those definitions that a research psychologist can say that some people are creative and that others are not. That definition comes when the researcher decides where the cut off point should be, at one percentile or another, and such a procedure seems to obtain with all of the measurable factors and this, in turn, allows us to arrive at some, presumably understandable “profile” of attributable characteristics…and, consequently, those characteristics are then attributed (becomes a part of) the reputation of the subjects concerned and, again, by definition, the impression emerges in the minds of those reading on the subject that this is what a “creative” personality looks like….on paper. This process is not unlike that of a man having reassured himself that he has closed his fly and so he goes confidently about his business not realizing that the tailor had evidently not done his job properly or the trouser fit was not right and the fly has worked its way open again. There are always some unanswered questions. In this case one if the built in difficulties of most psychological testing procedures is that they, necessarily, take place at a moment in time, a particular moment in time and the researcher is lucky if the dried leaf in the creek, by virtue of the nature of
the creek, comes close enough for him to snatch it out, and then, of course, the dried leaf is no longer dry, but wet. And so it is with psychological testing, even creative people are not what they are 24/7. In the light of all of this awareness how ridiculously confident psychologists sometimes become. The creative personality will, I think, always elude the researcher. However, having established these serious limitations to the credibility of the researcher, an understanding within the limitations of the profession should be possible. There are those who maintain, and apparently with economic success, that it is possible to stimulate creative responses in the most mundane, prosaic and ordinary human being. I cannot disagree with that assertion provided if by “creative” one means to describe those behaviors not usually associated with normal, everyday social intercourse, but that, we must certainly realize, also includes the truly bizarre range of behaviors. However, I must ask myself how normal and everyday are the experiences one has at the county fair? Which may be one reason why we generally only have them once a year. It is momentarily a release of social inhibitions and might, therefore, be mistaken for creative behavior. It is in this category that I would place the results of the application of exterior stimulation. While it may be possible, in theory, to re-educate a majority of the population to behaving creatively it would seem to me an impractical solution to the need for creative solutions when these creative solutions more likely reside in those personalities who have already been identified by the, admittedly clumsy, devices of the psychologist. If we already know (through psychological testing) who the creative personalities are it would seem a much more practical procedure to allow them to be who they are (in their work environment) than to proceed on the questionably democratic assumption that all people are creative. In point of fact, it now seems to me that the current assumption that “all people are creative” is not only an impractical one but it is, as well, a diversionary tactic on the part of those who feel ignored and feel themselves to be uncreative, but do not wish to appear so.. It is, perhaps, another expression of the apprehension creative personalities often create in their associates. This, in turn, relates to the learning experiences we all have endured which emphasize that all behavior must support the status quo, which represents the successful efforts of generations and explains who, we think, we are. Any threat of “real” change is therefore suspect. Brief moments of stress-relieving entertainment are tolerated and encouraged. Encouraged in ways not unlike the ways of the Romans who provided circuses as a release to social tension, but even the Romans finally became aware that real change was inevitable.
The rumblings for social change are a daily occurrence now and I think it would be an accurate assessment to say that everyone is aware of them. One evidence of this might well be the increase in rule by force, a broadly disseminated indifference to the suffering of masses of other people, education by authority (in many places) as an expedient technique in social control through intimidation and threat, elimination of enemies through starvation or the withholding of aide, the achievement of everlasting life via the theft of organs from the unsuspecting, unprotected, underprivileged and young. If there was ever a need for creative solutions to undesirable behavior it is now and I fully believe that the frustration of an individual’s legitimate desires for growth and development is a fundamental cause of the above mentioned awesomely shocking behaviors. Additionally, I believe that a program designed to elicit information about how the individual senses he should be developing ( which could be other, and probably is, than what his society thinks he should be) is essential to the formation of a truly compassionate society. This concept presupposes the preexistent personal will distinct from the body case in which it finds itself. Excuse the passionate rant, but it comes from the idea that all are, or can, possibly, be, creative. It is this same misplaced application of the concept of democracy that has encouraged the growth of hobbies like finger painting, basket making and flower arranging and the consequent promulgation of the idea that this is creative activity. That is appalling. All these activities certainly have their values but should not be confused with the accomplishments of Michelangelo, Frank Lloyd Wright, or Mozart. Some definitive cut off should be maintained if only to make differences more apparent. It is at this point that I should reintroduce the matter of “form over informed”. I recently read an interview between the British historian Paul Johnson and the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bruce Cole <www.neh.fed.us> in which Cole asks Johnson about his new book “Art: A New History”. I sympathize with Johnson about the probable desirability of a new history being written but there is something about the idea of one man presuming to counter balance the insights of two or three millennia that I find awesome, although I find myself in the process of doing so myself. Self-confidence knows no bounds. Based on the interview alone (I am aware that as a serious scholar I should buy the book, read it, and then comment upon it, but the world, as it has been run by the uncreative hasn’t allowed me to successfully battle the present-day economy and I cannot afford it) I am certain that Johnson and I do not agree. Of course, now, in all fairness to Johnson, he was introduced as a historian and writer and both activities rely heavily on a linear approach to understanding reality. The painter, architect, and sculptor, on the other hand, in their most exalted expression, do not. Of the artists Johnson mentions he admires, Bernini, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Vermeer, only his reasons for admiring Caravaggio and
Rembrandt perplex me and in the light of his having stated that Leonardo and Michelangelo were both “flawed” since if there are “flaws” to be noted they certainly exist in abundance in Caravaggio and in Rembrandt, while more diffuse there and form a part of the overall characteristics of the artist’s work. These socalled “flaws” maybe nothing more than evidences of those areas in the production of a work of art which have conceptually been problem areas for the artist and the ways in which the artist may have solved those conceptual problems might well be those very areas in which the creative behavior might be manifested. If one accepts this view, then, those works by artists which some might consider to be “perfect” ,according to certain technical standards, may not be those areas where the artists’ creativity has become manifest.
Bernini St. Longinus
Caravaggio: Crucifixion St. Peter
Rubens: Elevation of the Cross
Velasquez: The Forge of Vulcan
Vermeer: The flirt (my title)
Taking into consideration the focus of some of Johnson’s other comments regarding his affections for the works of certain artists, such as Winslow Homer, Frederick Church, and Albert Bierstadt,
Homer: On The Line
Bierstadt: Looking Up the Valley
all of whom are now dead we must, I think, come to the conclusion that Johnson really prefers excellence in execution. If this conclusion is correct one wonders how Johnson might deal with the following phenomena, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and even, surprise of surprises, Caravaggio when he sometimes appears to have forgotten what he did.
Van Gogh: Landscape
Cézanne: Bend in the Road
Perhaps some of these perplexing questions might be answered were we to attempt to resolve the role of formal invention in the behavior of artists. Johnson states that considers Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel over rated, whereas I consider it to be a prime example of artistic invention in progress, a record of developing graphic perception quite nearly unparalleled in our history. It might, as Johnson suggests, be flattering to the observer to have a work of art conceptually complete as he apparently sees Tintoretto’s “The Last Supper”, but is it proper to judge the creativeness of an artist on concerns that were not a part of the contemporary vocabulary. My answer to that question is a definite “yes”. In fact, where Caravaggio is concerned it was his attitude toward the somewhat less than ideal
Michelangelo: Sistine ceiling
Tinteretto: The Last Supper
personalities who inhabit his paintings that singled him out as having introduced a novelty, although such differences do not make up strong arguments for the explanation of creative behavior. While that is verifiably demonstrated in his works it is also true that a deeper level of creativeness he achieved when he managed, really rather exquisitely, to give vision to his torment at being sexually ambivalent. Physical evidence seems to have supported that conclusion as well, but it is the way in which Caravaggio has handled the elements, the formal elements, of his craft that tells that story more movingly than any contemporary document can do, and therein lies his significant creativeness.
An astute reader may question as to whether psychoanalytic approaches to aesthetic matters are appropriate to which I might flippantly respond that it is my creative approach to art criticism and, therefore, allowable. But I will not do that. Instead, I will state that, with a reference to Paul Johnson again, those artists he most admires, such as Raphael and Rubens were not in the totality of their production not very creative artists. It is true that Raphael died young; I believe he died at 37, but Masaccio was younger when he died at 27. There are nearly 100 years between those two deaths, 1428 and 1520, and considering that Raphael had the advantage of having seen the work of Michelangelo and Leonardo his accomplishments in the light of his environment do not begin to approach the accomplishments of Masaccio who pushed the boundaries of aesthetic vision into areas not seen since Classical times some nearly two millennia earlier. That is a creative accomplishment.
Rubens is a bit more difficult to handle since, as we have learned, he had something like fifty helpers in his studio. Separating those paintings and those parts of paintings that are attributed to Rubens’ hand has occupied the attention of many scholars for as many years. Having such a crowd around me, or around any artist I have known, would be more than a distraction it would be a disaster, but then, Rubens was a professional diplomat and crowds probably didn’t bother him that much and one might suppose, that aesthetic decisions were like diplomatic decisions, temporary at best and certainly subject to amendment.
Rubens: Crucified Christ
Bernini is a different problem all together and since he had been so very involved in so much theatricality and with their lavish production requirements he too had many assistants. He even had a crew of three sculptors assisting him in his sculpture and, in so far as I am aware, there is little concern among scholars as to which of his helpers did what in what work. Consequently one might assume that there was little technical difference in their abilities to do what Bernini required. It may be possible to credit Bernini with a talent for organization and design concept and certainly a flair for public relations, but to credit him with a high degree of creativeness independent of others in the field of aesthetic accomplishment and insight may be giving too much credence to the influence of a very public style…exciting as that style may be.
Bernini: Aneas & Anchises
I noticed that in this interview there as no mention of the work of Paul Cézanne who, recent history reports, was considered the “father of modern art”. In the past half century I have not come across more than relatively casual references to Cézanne’s having influenced modern art to the extent that he broke the barrier of illusionist representation of an external visual reality. From Cézanne’s own statements I, somehow, feel that that had not been his aim. He clearly stated that he saw the external world in terms of spheres, cubes and cones. While he certainly possessed the ability to put that description into literal practice he did not do so. Others did it for him. What they did I doubt he would have liked. I suspect that he would have felt their efforts were too superficial. It is entirely possible; of course, that what Cézanne saw, or felt, was a visual reality could not be translated into paint on canvas and that the combined efforts of all others were the closet anyone might come to a realization of what he was talking about. Perhaps the explanation that Cézanne tried to recreate a visual reality through the use of color equivalents without chiaroscuro shade is the closest one might come to an understanding of his efforts. There is one thing for sure; Cézanne could not draw, at least not in the classically accepted sense of that term. His attempts to render the human figure are abominable. Nevertheless throughout all these negative comments about his disabilities there persists the idea that he was, somehow, on to something but how to describe that something without recourse to the host of clichés that are available is a challenge.
The weight of paternal rejection which was probably considerably increased by the repeated rejections of academic authority figures could very well have smothered a less determined and obsessive personality haunted by a resistant vision of “a new world order”. Had he kept different company he might have become the guru of modern day ecologists and neo-Buddhists with the reported interest he had in realizing and demonstrating the various balances that characterize our natural world. It is difficult to say, if not impossible, that he had succeeded in his quest. I am not able to point to one work about which I can confidently say “this is what he was after”. In view of that it is more correct to say that this man’s life was a total disaster, but, in point of fact, it was not as the statements of so many other creative personalities have pointed out. Cézanne may not have been able to finalize or culminate, consolidate his vision of an ordered natural universe, but he certainly fired up the imaginations of others to give the search a try. Consequently, if heuristic influences might be considered an aspect of creative behavior, Cézanne was not only highly successful, but successful in a most unusual way. From this observation I can extrapolate to add the following with some strong assurance that it is true, that is, that the “new order” to which Cézanne may have been indicating is that order which emerges in and from their inner consistencies of certain works of art us an order peculiar to that particular work. In other words, the excellence of a work of art does not lie in its faithful recording of observed physical events extant in the outer world, but in the emerging connectedness of its parts as the mind of the artist works, in an indescribably complex way, with the myriad of data for which the artist struggles to find a visual resolution. Following that will be the conclusion that whatever the events are on a canvas or in a work of art those events are critical to its effective existence and the source of its honor should it experience any. In short, then, to state that the Sistine Chapel is “overrated” does injury to the concept of the creative process. To say that Cézanne did not know how to draw in the classically accepted fashion is simply to point out that he had rejected that venue as an appropriate one for his research…and research is what his work is all about. These observations also suggest that the responsibility of the art critic is not to determine how well an artist abides by the rules, i.e., Jacques Louis David, but to determine what the forces which generate artist effort in the individual may be and how effectively that individual has achieved them.
David: Death of Socrates
In Cézanne we can be forever thankful that he pointed the way, even if, like Moses, he never reached the Promised Land. On the other hand, it is possible that Cézanne’s followers were more influenced by his daring than by his insights. In any event, the world of the visual arts is undeniably richer because of what he accomplished and on that score alone Cézanne’s creativity might be assessed. Paul Henrickson © 2005
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.