Aug. 13, 2018.
Last week, Susan Bennett shared with us how creativity fills her. I was thrilled to hear how creative work has become part of her spiritual practice and she has done this through her involvement at UUCF. Her words reminded me of the experiences of many congregants but also of others who I heard at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June.
This year at GA, I heard the phrase “What our movement needs is creativity” repeated many times. Whether from a minister or inspiring speaker, we heard that new creative solutions are what is needed in our world. Yay! I agree. Yet, I found myself measuring this against current myths and archetypes that still permeate our society. Mainstream society likes to distance itself from the idea of being creative by categorizing artists as separate. I often hear the same things time and again:
• Aren’t musicians starving artists?
• Poets are dreamers.
• Visual art is a lovely hobby.
• Acting is for trust fund babies (sigh).
• Have you thought about a real job?
Well, these aren’t true. These and other sayings do not hold weight anymore and we see this happening in many areas. In business, job descriptions are evolving to require a more versatile, problem-solving and innovative staff. New curricula in schools are calling for idea-generating and collaborative projects (though they haven’t quite figured out how this also relates to arts and music funding … but I digress …). The internet has launched a new era of creating and marketing, and now this year Unitarian Universalism is calling for new kinds of creative advocates and forward-thinking activists. It seems obvious to everyone that there is a need for deep creativity to bring about social change. But how do we start to become creative?
Well, like Susan suggested, it is something we have to do ourselves in a deliberate act. I’m talking art, ya’ll. Each of us can do the work needed by beginning to make some kind of art in the world with the intention of understanding the creative process. As we do that, we will immediately recognize a need for spirituality to deepen that process in order to innovate and we will start to see ways in which this process can be mirrored to make social change. The world needs us now.
The first thing creativity teaches us is that we do not create in a vacuum. We are the product of our history and the organic ways we have arrived in our present. This understanding determines whether the impact of our art will have the desired effect on others. If we aren’t fully aware of the limits of our present, we make things that are too far outside the scope of what others can experience. How many artists do you know who were underappreciated because they leapt so far beyond the limits of cultural understanding in the time in which they lived that people couldn’t appreciate their brilliance? We must consider what our history and present are asking of us when we create. What structures are in place that we need to understand? What narrative has already existed that we need to access?
Once we know the building blocks we have inherited, with deep spiritual practice, we increase our awareness for tiny movements that combine the past with a future. Let’s consider music as an example. Take one of your favorite songs. If you listen to it, you will undoubtedly hear something similar to other songs – whether it’s written in a similar key or with a rock band – we recognize it. It feels familiar enough that we can relate to it and it has an emotional impact because of that. But why do we like it so much? What makes it really great is that despite its familiarity, you are still hearing something new, something that moves you because it hasn’t happened yet. The brilliance of the art is that musicians are making new songs but they aren’t actually that different from other songs. In fact, within them there are tiny variations from what we already know and that makes the impact incredible. For those who don’t see the building blocks in the medium, it feels revolutionary. But for those who understand the existing history and narratives – therein lies a different kind of brilliance that truly is innovative.
An artist creates something from an understanding of the inherited history of the medium and this vulnerable and difficult process takes spiritual practice. It is really humbling. When artists deepen awareness through some spiritual practice, tiny movements can be recognized when they present themselves. Then we truly access our creative sides. If I am too distracted, composing is practically impossible. If I am too self-absorbed, I can’t see your truth, your history, how you are hearing and what you may need in your present. Art gives us a tool to reveal ourselves on our terms in an immediate and unimposing way, yet it demands recognizing the other in the past, present and future. It urgently and simultaneously reflects our fragility and our commonality.
To those who love art, please keep loving it! Art will always need an audience or it isn’t … well … art. And, yes, art is still a fantastic way to access your full self and your potential, to understand others and grow in our relationship to community. That can be a good reason to start too! But I want to encourage you to see a deeper process within it whether you are just starting or a seasoned vet. It also offers a desperately needed tool as a gateway to creativity that Unitarian Universalism needs. If we are the change we have been waiting for, and creativity is what we need to find a new way – what medium is waiting for you?