Wenner. Parnassus, oil on canvas
All ancient cultures perceived the universe as being creative or informed by a creative force. Extremely ancient ideas and subsequent reactions to them inform our myths of creativity to this day and still strongly influence our current views about creativity.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the story of the many amorous alliances between the gods that resulted in the various creatures of the earth.
My intention is to tell of bodies changed
To different forms; the gods, who made the changes,
Will help me- or I hope so- with a poem
That runs from the world’s beginning to our own days.
The ancient world did not view creativity as an attribute of humankind but as a divine trait. Ovid, therefore, dutifully calls upon the gods to inspire his creative idea. His creative process consists of manifesting the idea into poetic verse.
When the axial religions proposed a monotheistic god, amorous relationships between deities became a nonsensical myth of creativity, and an “artisanal” model was substituted. God, therefore, created Adam from clay, much like a potter would make a statuette. The artisanal metaphor for divine creativity produced an uneasy relationship with human artisans that lasted for many centuries. Iconoclastic theology maintained that images created by mortal artists competed with or even usurped the creative role of God.
Wenner. God as the Creator
Enlightenment thinkers of the age of reason were in no position to challenge the role of God in creating the universe and therefore distanced their ideas from any reference to earlier myths of creativity. (John Locke published his famous treatise during a ten-year pause in the Inquisition, and the state imprisoned Kepler’s mother was at the age of 74 for witchcraft). Avoiding the issue of God in science without defining any other “agency” (or cause of creative activity) resulted in a strange metaphysical view of the universe. Science described the natural world as a machine operating with many “laws,” but without any underlying reason or purpose.
The age of reason, as underlined by Descartes’ statement, “I think therefore I am,” placed rational human thought at the center of the universe.
The two primary attributes of God are as the creator and as the lawmaker or judge. The “laws” of science are merely consistent behaviors observed in the natural world. The term “law” is merely the recycling of the second attribute of God. The reason for choosing this term was only a response to the religious politics of the 17th century. If early science had used the words “creative principles” instead of the term “laws,” it would have immediately evoked the attribute of creativity instead. This concept might have stepped on the toes of the church in the same way that painted images did in earlier centuries, but science would have a better worldview today. Even our myths of creativity provided a more harmonious vision of our place in the universe.
Science hopes to avoid metaphysics entirely by not attempting to explain why these laws exist. The intricacy of the natural world is, therefore, absurdly ascribed purely to chance. In contrast to the ancient world, we now consider creativity as an individual human trait rather than a central feature of physical reality. Even in the beauty and complexity of the animal world, science views the spectacular variety of creatures in a harsh Darwinian light as the accidental result of primitive survival mechanisms. This view eventually leads to analyzing human creativity on the couch of Freudian psychology. Here it becomes a pathology, a sort of neurotic inflation of an ancient survival mechanism that produces art and music to mitigate the existential angst of living in a meaningless universe.
Our myths of creativity pit the ancient view of the universe as an artifact still fights against the scientific model of the universe as a mindless machine. Neither worldview describes creativity as an essential and ongoing force that sustains the universe in every moment. Neither philosophy accepts the fact that the physical world, as we know it, could not continue to exist without ongoing creative action.
Wenner. Thalia, Muse of Comedy and Idyllic Poetry
The poet Tagore, writes:
“The universe is not a mere echo, reverberating from sky to sky like a homeless wanderer- the echo of an old song sung once for all in the dim beginning of things and then left orphaned. Every moment it comes from the heart of the master, it is breathed in his breath.”
If we are genuinely interested in understanding creativity, we must recognize it in every newborn child, every cloud formation, and in the thousands of leaves on every tree, each one unique and each tending toward the ideal form of the leaf. A new myth of creativity should embrace the active and ongoing role the universe plays in our everyday reality.