The Wisdom of Spontaneity (Part 4)

Is our unconscious mind "wiser" than our conscious one?

Posted Apr 16, 2009

Abstract Art, Stained Glass- . . . / Pixabay
Source: Abstract Art, Stained Glass- . . . / Pixabay

The Relationship Between Spontaneity and Creativity

It might be said that all great works of art originate from their creators' ability to trust their inspiration. Allowing themselves to get lost "in the flow" of their craft, there's nothing "mannered" about their creation. It's free of contrivance--immediate, "living," dynamic. Because of its essential spontaneity, which goes beyond space and time (as well as the inevitable limitations of the conscious human mind), it captures something vital and enduring about the human condition. Expressing that which transcends any particular convention or tradition, it's able to "talk" to us across time and space and suggest something universal about the world we live in. This is why, paradoxically, all great art is contemporary. Existing independent of the era in which it was created, we can all relate to it--resonate to its timeless, spaceless energy.

Swiss philosopher, Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881), rightfully claimed that "analysis kills spontaneity." It therefore follows that the state of mind giving rise to creativity cannot be the conscious, critical mind, but rather the unconscious, non-evaluative, spontaneous one. Although analysis may well follow inspiration (helping a creator better grasp intellectually--and refine on--what's just been created), analysis itself cannot bring forth a state of inspiration. Only unrehearsed, unsolicited moments of spontaneity can accomplish this. And it might be mentioned here that humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow once described creative people as "all there, totally immersed, fascinated and absorbed in the present, in the current situation, in the here-now, with the matter-in-hand." Inspiration "comes" then because creative individuals are willing to lose themselves (i.e., their "self-conscious self") and become totally engrossed in the present moment.

It really doesn't matter whether we're talking about the creator being engaged in literature, painting, architecture, sculpture, music, the performing arts, or any other art form. (And, parenthetically, it should be added that it doesn't have to be an art form at all, since it's possible to be creative in virtually any endeavor.) The key point to be made here is that the act of creation has something essential to do with both spontaneity and inspiration. And in some ways these two states of consciousness may be inseparable. For each of them involves newness or freshness--or, as we might put it in today's parlance, "thinking outside the box." Regardless of how much planning or thought may have gone into a work's preparation, its actual execution must be somewhat "thoughtless," in the sense that the creation--in the very process of "being born"--must somehow manage to transcend the creator.

This is why novelists, for example, frequently talk about how at some point their fictional characters begin to determine, or "edit," the plot; how, in the act of writing, "well-realized" characters may refuse to abide by their author's original intentions. Ironically, they can take on a mind of their own and become active participants in shaping the narrative originally "sculpted" by their creator. If the author has succeeded in "breathing life" into them, they may begin--spontaneously, as it were--to "channel" their own ideas and emotions through the author.

Emblematic of their author's inner wisdom (that part of the creator's self which in the moment knows more than he or she can know consciously), these characters have in a sense been given "free will" to determine the work's final structure. And artists devoted to keeping faith with their creative instincts have little choice but to follow the messages they're getting spontaneously from these "fictive selves" and allow them to "take over" the narrative. All of which is to say that the spontaneous part of the author's psyche (vs. the more deliberative, rational part) must assume an increasingly prominent role in the creative process.

If any creative work is to achieve greatness, it must be--as the eminent literary theorist Northrop Frye once put it--"realized from the unconscious." It should be evident that at the foundation of an artistic masterpiece (as opposed to, say, a cogent piece of propaganda) what is triumphantly at work is the spontaneous mind. It's a mind--or better, mindfulness--that has very little to do with everyday thought. Its spontaneity reflects a great deal of accumulated knowledge and experience--but assimilated to the degree that the work is imbued with more wisdom than the creator could possibly be aware of. "Realized from the unconscious," the work goes beyond what its creator could contrive consciously.

All of this reminds me of a scene in the movie Amadeus in which Mozart defends himself to his superior by saying, "Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not." This is why artists of all stripes, listening to a voice from deep within, can create works that somehow manage to be more profound--"wiser" and more evolved--than, personally, they are themselves. Richard Wagner (to give just one of countless examples) was hardly an exemplary human being. But there's no question that his music frequently rises to greatness, and that his Ring Cycle is a singular operatic masterpiece.


NOTE 1: Part 5 of this post will discuss the crucial links between spontaneity and happiness. In addition, here are links to parts 1, 2, and 3.

NOTE 2: If you could relate to this post and think others you know might also, kindlly consider forwarding them its link.

NOTE 3: To check out other posts I’ve done for Psychology Today online—on a broad variety of psychological topics—click here.

© 2009 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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