THE METAPHYSICS OF CREATIVITY

About a month ago on another website, there was a discussion about
fanfiction and professional writing, and the distinctions between them.
Some of the posters contended that it was a matter of the quality of the
writing, in terms of craftsmanship. Me, I think that’s a mistake. Some
professional writers can be sloppy craftsmen, while some fanfic writers
have exceptional talent.

Colleen and I (we’d both followed the discussion there) continued a
conversation spun from this discussion. Our conversation led into other
territory, and it seemed to me it would make an interesting guest blog
topic. So, here’s some wandering on where my thoughts went.

Professionalism in creative arts certainly begins with craftsmanship. The
fanfic writer might not be concerned with that aspect of writing, but
anyone with professional aspirations ought to be.

But the true distinction is not in the craftsmanship itself – whether in
writing or art or music or acting or any of the creative activities. What
is the true key lies in the creator’s passion for his or her work.

The effect of the creator’s passion is difficult to describe. It seems
ephemeral. Yet, everyone gets a feeling of “This is right” or “This is
wrong.” Something gets communicated, something extra.

I’ve occasionally called this effect “frozen telepathy.” What I mean by
that is that some inner passion the creator has for the story, the
characters or whatever, gets caught in the finished work and the audience
can see it, receive it. For actors, it is perhaps most obvious – there
are some actors who can take you all the way inside their characters, so
that even though the character “isn’t showing anything,” the audience can
actually see what is going on inside. Other actors who lack this ability
end up seeming flat, and the audience only gets the surface (which might
of itself be pleasing – many such actors are physically attractive and may
have great smiles). They may convey to the audience a nice picture but no
emotional content.

Whatever it is in this invisible communication, it is harder to pin down
in writers and artists. As I said, there’s a lot of “This works” or “That
doesn’t work” in our responses to creative works. Additionally,
individual creators seem to have some sort of internal signature that
identifies the work as something from a specific creator. It is that
unique touch that lets someone say at a glance of a painting, “That’s a
Van Gogh,” “That’s a Rembrandt,” “That’s a Picasso,” “That’s a Hirshfeld.”
Something similar can occur in writers as well: Hemingway’s prose is
different from Faulkner’s; Robert Howard’s prose is different than that of
his pastichers.

Years ago, I read a book titled SENTICS, by Dr. Manfred Clynes. Clynes
developed a finger pressure sensor that allowed him to measure emotional
response to stimuli. It turned out that there were specific pressure
signatures for specific basic emotions and the responses were consistent
cross-culturally and across the sexes (meaning men and women are not
really that different in their responses). Clynes then extended his
research to human response to music. In doing so, he discovered that
listeners would create similar pressure patterns in response to different
works from a specific composer, even if they were unfamiliar with the
works. And, by and large, the musical work created a consistent response
in listeners. This meant that an American, a Japanese, a rural African
each listening to a specific work would generate pressure signatures with
a pattern distinctive to that composer. Apparently, the only major
differences occurred when the listener was a strong individualist with his
own distinct response to music. Conductor Leopold Stokowski frequently
put his own stamp on works he conducted, and this showed up in his
responses in Clynes’ studies (Clynes knew many notables in the classical
music world).

Reading Clynes’ studies gave me a lot to think about in this matter of the
“invisible communication” in creative works. The fact that Clynes found a
way to measure emotional response and that the results could be consistent
and reproducible (an important factor in establishing a truly scientific
measure), made me much more certain about the aspect of objective
evaluation of art. Apparently, evaluation of creative works is NOT “just
a matter of opinion.” If it was possible to measure emotional response to
music, I extrapolated that it could also be done for visual and textual
art.

My point is (before I get sidetracked into issues of objective evaluations
of art and literature) that it was now obvious that “something invisible
and consistent” does indeed go on in art. And that something touches our
emotional responses. We DO communicate something in our works (beyond the
obvious intent of the art or storytelling), and the response of the
audience will depend on (1) how much we (the creator) “put into” the work
and (2) how much the specific audience member responds to our particular
emotional brew. This is where distinctions between a Debussy lover and a
Wagner or Philip Glass lover come in: neither listener is more right than
the other, they are just preferring different emotional responses.

Do some creators put into their work and “invisible something” that other
might find repellant? Oh, yes. It is apparently a reflection of some
attitude or outlook on the part of the creator that generates a negative
response in segments of the audience. And that, perhaps, is one of the
conclusions one can draw from Clynes’ studies: art (be it music, visual
arts or writings) is more revealing of the artist’s own nature than is
generally acknowledged. And when we say of some creative work “It speaks
to me,” we are being much less figurative than we imagine. Art talks and
it reveals the secrets of its creator. (Isn’t that a scary thought for
the reclusive artist? 😀 )


Sarah Beach trifles with artwork, but applies herself to writing with
much more diligence. She’s the author of THE SCRIBBLER’S GUIDE TO THE LAND OF MYTH, and uses material from the book as springboards for posts on her blog.