Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Creativity & the Arts Therapies

Originally posted on October 8, 2012

In response to a request to speak to some students of one of the arts therapies at a college in the USA, I contemplated what such students need to hear. I asked about improvisation as a theme and the teacher noted that developing skills to promote improvisation in art media—music, dance, art, poetry, etc.—is indeed relevant. I realized that I have wanted to witness to the deep importance of cultivating improvisational skills. I wrote: It partakes of re-encountering one’s creative potential. I went on to talk about creativity.

Creativity is beginning to be recognized, but it doesn’t fit much with most theories of psychology. There’s a 30 – 60 year delay in the understanding of the nature of the psyche—sort of like the state of biology and medicine in the mid-19th century before the vivid truth of the microbial (invisible?!) world became apparent.

Creativity is a subtle dynamic: It flowers more when there’s a relative reduction of arousal of the mid-brain limbic system, which means that in states of fear, grief, anxiety, annoyance, illness, and the like, the emotional “noise” obscures the more subtle inflow of “inspiration.” What’s needed, as in other scientific studies, is the reduction of that which introduces too much contamination, noise, etc.—and in this case, a relative feeling of safety and a context that promises social safety, forgiveness, being liked, secure self esteem and the esteem of others, group cohesion, high morale, playfulness— all quiet the mind and let one notice creative ideas from the forebrain.

In a more turbulent world, many people were reacting to coarser inputs, people have just died, threats of being hurt, dispossessed, etc. Only in this more affluent world, and also because of the acceleration of technology and the demand for innovation, has creativity emerged from something only a rare few inventors and artists could dare do to something we want to promote in most people. It’s a pretty new commodity, in other words. And we are exploring now how to reduce the elements that interfere with creativity—needs to be in control, worries about the “product” rather than the process, a demand that what is developed be immediately explainable, etc.

Psychodrama applies creativity not as art or music—but other approaches do that— but more as drama, which draws on the tendency of people to tell stories, to live out their own stories, to create and re-create their own life scripts. Improvisation, though, is a key—it’s not a scripted process. And psychodrama operates as a method within a larger group of primary concepts:

1. Creativity may be imagined as a primary philosophical and even theological quality, and indeed, this has been suggested by some philosophers such as Henri Bergson or Alfred North Whithead, or the inventor of psychodrama, the multi-role-developed genius Jacob L. Moreno (1889-1974).

2. The best way to promote creativity is not through quiet pondering and then flash insights—though those do get more press than they deserve; far more often, though, the creator improvises, then refines, and the refining and revising may go through scores of reiterations! Persistence is a major quality, but our culture overly focuses on the end point, the product. A careful reading of history of art or technology reveals, though, that most created pretty good products then get superseded by improvements, and those get improved upon, too. In other words, don’t assume that what is created cannot yet be revised or improved. Really appreciating the process of improvisation is one of Moreno’s contributions.

3. The state of mind of the improvising person is called “spontaneity.” To be creative, one of the best techniques is to free up your spontaneity. Be aware that not everything you spontaneously evolve will in fact be creative. But the attitude differs from mere impulsivity in that you’re looking for that more useful end-point, and if what you generate doesn’t work, you’re alert to the fact that it doesn’t and perhaps you even pursue why it doesn’t so you can try again with a different approach. A famous scientist named John Wheeler is said to have noted that science proceeds only by making all possible mistakes—but the catch is noticing that they are mistakes. (This differs from falling into a cult-like mentality of believing in beliefs.) In other words, have a part of your mind that is alert to the possibility that what you are doing may be mistaken, or at least worthy of possible refinement, making it even better! Indeed, build into your activities some sub-routine that is geared to discovering and identifying what isn’t working.

Getting People In Touch With Their Own Creative Potential

Finally, my point is that this is much much bigger than therapy per se. Applied to therapy and rehabilitation, let’s say that that getting people in touch with their own creative potential is enlightening and exciting and empowering, and in that sense it promotes health and resilience. Many people who are “sick” are likewise demoralized, and our culture does much to add to this demoralization, though of course it means well and doesn’t want to demoralize anyone.

The source of intrinsic demoralization is the fairly widespread and implicit belief in the industrial world that normal people can work any factory job if they want to. People in the industrial era were thus imagined to function like cogs in a great machine. The unspoken expectation has been that you should be normal, which implies that you should not be distracted by such strange notions as talents or inspirations. After all, there is no place for individual talents, temperament, or other marks of individuality in most factories. Shut up and do what you’re told.

Alas, much schooling is like this, too. As a result, the hypocrisy of administrators who believe they’re doing good but really are only serving the convenience of administration in a large knowledge factory prevents well-meaning administrators to realize they’re part of an oppressive hyper-machine. Conventional education still believes that filling vessels with information is what it’s about, rather than kindling flames. Back when just getting a general education of information depended on instruction rather than the internet, this belief was more plausible. (It was wrong even then, but more plausible.)

So it is good to help people discover their creative potential, that more vital and enthusiastic component of the healthy “inner child” complex, and drawing it forward. It’s good to distill out the healthy inner child, away from the less healthy inner child elements of egocentricity, selfishness, impulsivity and other errors of immaturity. But in the olden days, this recognition of the idea that there are healthy, life-affirming elements in the inner child was rare; mostly inner child was all lumped together, like unrefined oil, and viewed as useless or even bad. Part of our own era and this program is to introduce the concept of “refining” into education and therapy.

If you’re interested in these ideas, you might enjoy reading more in some of the many papers on my website: including those aimed at the creative arts therapies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *