by Dr. Anne Hilty
As every artist can attest, the creative act is a spiritual one. Regardless of belief, there is a universal sense that the art, whether visual, performance, aural or other, flows through the artist almost as a separate entity, with a sense of enrichment.
Humanists also ascribe to this concept, in identifying art in all its forms as one of the most glorious aspects of humanity, and something that feeds our individual spirits and enhances our societies. Inspiration – the very word meaning to breathe inward that which is outside of and all around us – comes to artists as a force, a Muse, a substance that is not the artist but inhabits him or her for a little while. Those who are most in tune with this force, we call genius; the well-known writer Elizabeth Gilbert suggests that we reframe this concept in keeping with that of the ancient Romans, and view the artist not as someone who is genius but who has a Genius, a spirit that inspires.
Writers often speak of characters and stories that develop in spite of the writer’s intention and in unexpected ways. Musicians and composers talk of music ‘in the air all around’ that flows through them; one scholar even went so far as to suggest music as the matrix, the inherent fabric, of the universe, correlating it to subatomic matter and string theory. Performers permit their characters to ‘inhabit’ them. There is a sense of otherworldliness connected to the creative act, and to art itself.
What about those of us who aren’t artists, or who don’t self-identify as such?
It is a given that all humans are creative. We must think creatively every day in order to solve problems, make the most of our lives, get what we want and need. While some of us exercise this ability more than others, it nevertheless exists within each of us. Indigenous people typically fall into two categories of creativity: those who make art as external objects, and those who become it in the form of self-decoration and performance. The same can be said, though not always as obviously, of those living in modern societies.
Atheists and agnostics don’t typically acknowledge the idea of “spirit”, while people who are religious have proscribed ideas of its meaning. Humanists bridge this gap by identifying art as one of the ultimate forms of human expression, enhancing the meaning and experience of life.
How can we pursue creativity as a spiritual path? Essentially, the process of being creative, and the regular inclusion of it in our daily lives, can enhance our personal well-being, our sense of connectedness with the world and its inhabitants, and our attitude of benevolence toward others. Creative process can improve our quality of life and our relationships. Whether the end result is “good” by common standard is irrelevant; it’s the process itself that’s important.
If you like to write, try keeping a journal; if you prefer to draw, or paint, or sculpt, or compose music, then find a regular time to do so. Meditating beforehand, or at least sitting quietly with an open mind and a focus on your breathing (inspiration!), will aid in the connection of creativity to spirit. To access less familiar areas of your mind and spirit, experiment with styles of creativity that you haven’t done before, or even considered. Creativity in a group (think: drumming circle, or the artists’ schools in the Renaissance era) can be even more powerful, and surely, when community and creativity come together, Spirit is present.
Creativity can be an effective tool for enhancing our spiritual growth. Adopting it in various forms as a regular, even daily practice can provide opportunities to shift our consciousness in ways as yet only imagined.