Monday, January 5, 2015

Inspiration and Creativity

            Creation remains one of human experience’s unsolved mysteries. Does the thing that has not been before come from outside (inspiration, whose root meaning is a “breathing in”)? Or does it come from within the person (creativity, the ability to make new ideas or things)? Or can it be a combination of both? We will reach no ultimate conclusions on this question today, but we can speculate on several examples.
             Among these, some of the most fascinating occur when someone takes a fresh look at something others have observed for years. One afternoon in Culver City, California, in 1921, the silent film producer Hal Roach was gazing out his office window, watching children at play. Many of us have delighted in sights such as that. But to Hal Roach came the stroke of creativity: If children at play entertained him for a full quarter of an hour, why not film them to entertain moviegoers? The result was the popular series of “Our Gang” comedies that amused audiences until about 1944.

            Something similar happened in 1941 to the Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral when he and his dog returned from a hunting trip. Burrs had stuck to his clothing and the dog’s hair. This had been happening to people ever since clothing, dogs, and burrs existed, but de Mestral asked what made the burrs stick. He found that burrs had tiny hooks that latched on to any kind of loop. From that discovery he developed the product we now know as Velcro.
            In each of these cases the stimulus came from outside, but the creative act came from inside the observer. These and other instances lead me to believe that some external stimulus is usually required to spark the inner creative impulse.
            Similar things happen to writers, one example being my poem “Married Love.” From graduate school days I had admired Renaissance art, particularly those paintings and schematics that tried to capture all possible meanings of a selected concept within one work of art. And Edmund Spenser had attempted the same kind of structure in The Fairie Queene with extended passages about the House of Pride and the House of Holiness. So I decided to try something similar with the House of Married Love, using images to suggest all the wonders of that love. But the idea would not have been complete without imaging the barrenness of counterfeits of love that lie “outside the house.” Again, the stimulus came from outside, but the creative act to develop something new came from inside.

            Things like that also happen in writing novels. In my thriller The Lazarus File, I had the hero/pilot hijacked in order to arrange his meeting with the totally dissimilar heroine. The only use I had for the hijacker was to make that happen. He held the hero at gunpoint on the airport ramp in Medellin, demanding that he make a flight to move the heroine out of guerrilla territory. As I wrote the scene the hero naturally asked what would happen if he didn’t make the flight. Then this speech happened, totally unplanned: The hijacker looked sad and said, “"Ah, Señor…Before the Sabbath I must attend confession, and some patient Father must hear the tedious catalog of my sins. Why would you add your murder to that sordid list? You should be more considerate of the priesthood."
            After that chop-logic I knew I had to get more mileage out of the hijacker. The creative act had come unbidden, but planning would be required to capitalize on it. So I had the hijacker tackle straightforward problems with outlandish Rube Goldberg schemes that somehow always worked. I had him speak in clichés that he never got quite right: “You will find the grass is greener when you are not straddling the fence.” And readers liked the character so much that I brought him back in Deadly Additive, with a son who boasted, “I am a sheep off the old black.”
            In the end one doesn’t know where these ideas come from. But it seems to me that something outside provides the stimulus, and the creative impulse and craftsmanship take over from that point.
            What are your ideas on the subject?


Sadie and Sophie said...

Wonderful post, as always. I'm reminded of the words to a Bill Gaither song, "I just can't help it, God gave me the song." We believe the same is true in the writing world. We hold the pen (or have access to the keyboard), and He sends the words. Keep up the great work!

Regina Smeltzer said...

Donn, I often wonder where creativity comes from and why some seem to have it and others don't. I have always thought it related to the whole right brain - left brain issue. Your blog has given me a different insight. Thanks.

Donn Taylor said...

Thanks for your comments, Sadie, Sophie, and Regina.

Diane Kalas said...

Friends have asked me where my ideas come from for my stories. I reply that if I wasn't a Christian I would think it was magic - something unknown and unexplainable. Because I'm a Christian, I credit God.

Ann Isik said...

Thank you for this insightful 'gem', Donn, which reaches into the heart of all artistic endeavour. I, too, have had many experiences of 'inspiration'. Why, for instance, would the killing of a bird (by my cat) remind me of the pretend 'machines' my (deceased) brother used to make as a child? And the idea persist and persist until I had to sit down and do the journey of writing about it? And then at the end of it, my brother appear to me in a dream with a message? Also, no-one would consider the results of my artistic efforts - including myself - wildly successful. (There's time yet, I'm only 65). I've reached the conclusion that it is during my creative struggles that a channel of communication is opened up. There is a common denominator to all these 'moments'; it is as if I am being bathed in love.

Thank you for reminding me that 'success' in creativity is not about the ego (worldly success) but in achieving communion with The Great Love. This must surely be the goal of any creative journey.

I'm happy that I was inspired to visit your blog today. I'd forgotten all about it.

And I've finally reached 'Rhapsody in Red' in my reading list. :)