CREATIVITY AND THE ART STUDENT

by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D

tm. © 2007

© 1962

Of the four types of change Aristotle mentions one seems particularly apt as a description of creativity. It is the change that takes place intangibly, but the results of the change are tangible. The character of change itself is in a state of flux…it is the process of becoming. H.H. Anderson has pointed out that creativity is the interaction that takes place between the person and his environment and is not to be found in the person as such. W. Lambert Brittain has described the person who is a party to these interactions with the environment as being flexible in his approach to new situations. He also possesses a great deal of energy and employs is to alter unpleasant situations by inventing, writing, painting, or otherwise producing. John Stuart Mill recognized that there were minds in which caution predominated and others, which were characterized by boldness. A lengthier list of characteristics peculiar to the creative personality has more recently been drawn up by Calvin Taylor, who sees the creative person as being devoted to autonomy, as more self-sufficient, mire independent of judgment, more dominant, more complex, more radical, more adventurous, more emotionally sensitive, more introverted, and bolder than the less creative person. One can easily see why creative people are frequently judged severely and harshly by society in general, teachers, and also by their peers. This list of characteristics together with the responses they frequently elicit from others who share the environment with creative individuals underlines the vividness of the description Jules Henry has offered of creative activity: “…in the beginning [it] is like a criminal eluding the police (the noncreative, conformist majority) by losing himself in the crowd.” In other words the creative person hides, or attempt to control, what the non-creative majority might view as viciousness—vice, a behavior that is out of order.

When Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics) wrote, “the nature that needs change is vicious” he referred to a statement by Electra (in Euripides’ Orestes). Orestes lies prostrate of a cruel wasting dis-ease, is restless and difficult to please. He is urged by Electra to take a step—to change his position and his inactivity for activity, “Change”, she says, “is always pleasant”. The context is which the reference appears and Aristotle’s reference to it suggests that a change or a need for a change is symptomatic of dis-ease. Vice or viciousness does not appear in a healthy, well-balanced body. This applies not only to the individual per se, but to individuals within groups, as well, one might think, of group subdivisions within larger units. The creative person is more perceptive about the ills of his society and more aware of its inadequacies than are others and bold to take the experimental step in an effort to bring about a more balanced healthful state. An example of such action may e that of James Madison when he urged the people of the United States to support the ratification of the new constitution. This action was certainly a political innovation. Current psychological research indicates that artists, as a group, differ from business people in that they look for ways of thinking that are novel, unusual and I original. Such people tend to combine ideas into unusual conceptions with the richness of association and manner of expression. They have been found to be extremely responsive to sense data. This last characteristic may explain why they are more dissatisfied with their surroundings and more perceptive than others on recognizing actual or potential examples of poor organization. In the words of one investigator, “[the creative person] sees not only truth but also beauty.” W.E. Drevdahl has recorded some points of difference between creative scientists and creative artists. He found that artists were less stable and controlled, more emotionally sensitive, and more insecure. One is tempted to ask whether the greater degree of insecurity is somehow related to their greater awareness of environmental inconsistencies of a sensual nature and to the fact that they work with media and produce works, which are not objectively verifiable. The biographies of artists to a great extent support the findings mentioned above. There are, however, some differences, which might be fruitful to explore. Twelve artists, more or less picked at random, display a rich constellation of qualities certainly equal to those discussed above. These artists are Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Munch, Gauguin, Redon,

Titian, Leonardo, Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Caravaggio, Titian, and Rubens. There may be disagreement among scholars of the history of art over this selection, but it should be generally agreed that those included in this list could not be regarded as being of miner importance. The characteristics, which they exhibited, however, differ markedly. Michelangelo, much, Redon, and Cézanne were sensitive recluses. Even Gauguin might be so described, for in spite of his vanity and conceit he did eventually retire to Tahiti where seclusion was both a blessing and a burden to him. Leonardo Rubens Titian, Rembrandt enjoyed the company of others. Even Caravaggio, although we might not have approved o the company he kept, found a rowdy, unrestrained companionship rewarding. Rubens, Titian, Cézanne, and Monet, in their mature work, exhibited a concern for their creative endeavors which in varying degrees suggests an objective—in some cases even a scientific—approach to their work. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Munch, as a group, tended to emphasize philosophical or humanitarian concerns of their choice of subject matter and manner of expression. This is not to say, that these artists were narrative in their approach to subject matter, but rather that the manner in which they presented their subject matter gives evidence of a personal involvement—a certain expressionistic power. To the extent that it is possible to identify sexual normalcy, it will be justifiable to suggest that Redon, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gauguin were not outstandingly divergent. Whereas there is evidence, which suggests that van Gogh, Much, Leonardo, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo were. Recent psychological research has uncovered personality characteristics that indicate that creative people often share some of the interests and values of the opposite sex. These divisions are certainly arbitrary at best, but they will certainly serve to indicate that the degree of difference among artists may be as great or greater than the differences which distinguish creative individuals from those who are less creative. Technical proficiency is perhaps the primary evidence for the identification of artistic creativeness upon which the layperson depends. Yet, over the long run this is the least dependable of any. There may be a significant difference between incipient creativeness in art and the level of aesthetic acceptability.

Certainly, an adequately expressive technique is desirable if the work of art is to be understood, but artists, teachers, critics, and even the history of art itself have testifies that there is something in addition to technical proficiency which raises the artistic product to the level of creativeness. Creative achievement is not without its struggle and pain. If artistic creativeness is desired, technical proficiency, as measured by the layperson, may be a handicap. Some artists have even complained that their technical success had been the main stumbling block to their having been able to achieve a more meaningful level of achievement. It is not unusual to find high academic achievers enrolled in art classes where their intelligence, or the level of their conformity, often boosts their drawings and paintings to a superficial level of attractiveness. There is a great temptation to strive for and to repeat this kind of success. In terms of learning, artistic insight, and creative expression in art, the success that is reared is valueless. There are other students who may or may not be so academically accomplished, who are less secure in their abilities, more humble, and distinctly more involved and who express a profound respect for their own reactions in an unpredictable and environmental situation. These students may not have developed or may have discarded a facility for handling the medium, but they sometimes accomplish the rare and often profoundly moving work of art. If it is true that to sponsor a creative person’s endeavors may change the ratio of the world’s present chances of survival, the teaching profession finds itself in a very challenging position. To assess learning in the traditional fashion has its own peculiar pitfalls, for what may be taken for learning may be a successfully adopted temporary set which will be discarded after the final examination, and we have known some who have so mastered the vocabulary of whatever discipline that they are able, with some exceptions, to go through life undetected for the frauds they, in fact, are. Ro assess the growth or application of creativeness is to open the door to unexpected and unpredictable divergent responses. Within the limits, which determine course work, these responses may have no proper time for development. Many teachers and students, even if they are bored and not truly satisfied with the traditional arrangement tacitly accept

the procedure as the most objective and the less anxiety producing. The traditional manner of instruction, that is instruction by authority, is the easier way out for both teacher and student. However teachers who accept this view of their role in respect to it may, in spite, of a superior accumulation of data, find themselves unneeded in the world of ideas. What, in the future, will be of value will likely be qualities of flexibility, curiosity, and a lively and productive imagination. Ben Shawn recorded some of his experiences with fine arts students when he was asked to take over the classes of a painter who had died. After a period of time one disturbed student came to him and complained that he was not being taught how to paint. Mr. Shawn’s reply was out into the form of a question. In substance it was: “what one of the hundred-odd styles do you think it would be appropriate to teach?” Another artist-teacher, John Ferrin, has written, “the best teacher is someone the student can react against”. For at least the past century those artists who have achieved recognition—if at times belated—have expressed dissatisfaction with their early learning experiences. Redon was disappointed with his professor at the art academy, although the painter Stanislas Gorin successfully encouraged him at an early date, thus acting as his patron or sponsor. Monet resented the intrusion of he older and he more perceptive mentor, Eugene Boudin but the older man through patience and challenge, was able to penetrate the haughtiness and the arrogance of the younger. Cézanne experienced ridicule from both the traditionalists and the less sensitive moderns. Munch was succored but also misinterpreted by Christian Krohg, yet it was Munch who prompted the development of one of the most influential art movements of the past two centuries. Matisse writes, “you must accept [influences] so that you can react to them, triumph over them”. He adds an interesting note when he records what his teacher Gustave Moreau has said to him after admonishing him about his approach to painting. Moreau is reported to have said, “don’t listen to me. What you are doing is more important than anything I say. I am only a professor, I don’t understand these things.” This statement is revealing, for it underlies the quality of teaching that a perceptive, wide and humble artist- teacher practices. There is no evidence of arbitrary authority. Guidance seems to be the keynote of such teaching, with sufficient latitude

allowed for the inspired student to explore and to develop. The primary goal is seen as the emancipation of the creative vision. The most significant reward for the teacher who is interested in creative solutions is the recognition that his students value their own creative autonomy and produce work that is consistent with and illustrative of it. There is no end to this kind of teaching, no ceiling to what can be learned. Ste student determines the limits of knowledge while the teacher assumes the roll of stimulator, agitator banisher of smugness, and, hopefully, inspirer. Dissatisfaction, stress, and anxiety on the part of the student can act as the catalyst, which assists those who are accustomed to learn by authority to become conscious of the need to find a solution. There is little necessity to point out that the needs of society, the viciousness of the world, the dis-ease of international relations. The change that is always becoming but never is has ever been and ever will be. What we may not be aware of are new, untried, possible solutions to these and other problems. Statistically, the more people there are who are encouraged to think creatively, the greater the probability that creative solutions will be found.