Creativity and Its Source

A speculation with subjective and objective perspective

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Creativity has important place in everyone’s life, but for an artist creativity is life! We all have at some point wondered as to what makes an artist outstanding and gives an ability to create something so amazing and original that we just go gaga over it. Albert Einstein famously quoted the secret to creativity is to knowing how to hide your sources. What did he mean by that? I will try to address various factors crucial to creativity, specially an outstanding artwork from social, biological and various other perspectives.

Humans have always wondered about the source of creativity. Ancient Greeks believed that goddesses called Muses inspire artists and were responsible for what gives a person an artistic ability. Although we have come too far in temporal sense, we still don’t have very specific answer as to what makes an artist what he is! Einstein was once asked how he was able to come up with the theory which changed the course of science and his reply was precise and articulate. He said“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination”. He is I think is the only scientist who said that imagination is more important than knowledge. While scientists are primarily concerned with objectivity, empiricism and data, a genius like Einstein considered himself more of an artist. But is imagination enough to create a masterpiece? What else does it take to shape the imagination into a piece of art? I will dive further into the mystery of creativity in my attempt to come up with a profounder answer.

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While Einstein’s perspective was more uplifting, many artists would consider suffering and pain as an essential ingredient to produce an artwork. While everyone who suffer does not need to be creative, there seems to be a specific emotion responsible for a creative outlet of the pain a person goes through which is called angst. While in general term, the word angst simply refers to anxiety or fear, ‘angst’ has another meaning in the realm of arts referring to ‘a transcendental emotion of unbearable anguish of life with a hope of overcoming it’. So perhaps it is this paradoxical and transcendental emotion with despair on one side and hope on the other which transforms the personal pain and anguish of an artist into something more impersonal, pure and creative.

But so far we were looking at the topic with a subjective point, but is it possible to look at the art and artists themselves in an objective and scientific manner? Though I am not sure one can do it, I would like to give it a try addressing the topic with biological and psychological point of view.

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There seems to be a genetic predisposition of mental illnesses among artists especially those who were able to come up with completely original and revolutionary ideas. While many artists themselves were the victim of mental disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, many had such illnesses running in their families. Famous English writer Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath both suffered from emotional distress which we now understand as bipolar disorder. Math genius John Nash also suffered from schizophrenia which he credited for his mathematical creativity. Close relatives of many geniuses suffered from such illnesses including Einstein’s schizophrenic son Eduard Einstein and many relatives of Bertrand Russell. Many genetic and biological factors are considered to contribute to the relation between mental illnesses and creativity. One such factor is the hormone as well as a neurotransmitter called dopamine which is responsible for various brain functions. Many studies have shown similar behavior of dopamine system in highly creative and schizophrenic as well as bipolar patients.

Finally, I have to say that probably we don’t know yet what really stimulates creativity in an individual. On the other hand everyone is creative in different ways and one’s own potential needs to be explored to know one’s own niche.

Despite my attempt to justify the topic and look at the source of artistic ability and creative mind with various perspectives, perhaps no one knows the exact recipe for it.

Maybe it is the randomness and mystery about creativity itself which makes work of an artist so beautiful.