The Creative Self
Do you know who you are?
Are you consistent and steady in your daily creative endeavours, confident in the face of the sometimes harsh responses to your work?
Or maybe there is silence, nobody pays attention. How does that affect you? Your driver’s licence has a name and a photograph.
Your online social profiles, your employee records, your tax accounts, birth certificate and other records all represent a fixed and unchanging you.
But are you fixed and unchanging?
What influences your idea of yourself and what are the consequences for you creatively?
In this chapter, we will explore the nature of the self from the perspective of creativity.
We will look at influences to our self-identity and self-concept and explore why these can sometimes have a negative impact on success in our chosen domain.
We will also examine the relationship between that which we conceive ourselves to be and the source of creative inspiration.
Be yourself, they say.
Don’t try to be someone you are not.
From our earliest days, we are told to follow this staple advice for life and work. As children, we are discouraged from playing particular roles and encouraged to adopt more desirable traits of personality that fit in with the design of the social group to which we belong.
We are sculpted and moulded by adults who appear, from our young, naive position, to know better than us.
The influence towards the ideological self is everywhere.
Take the Internet; it is full to the brim with well-intended motivational gurus peddling this same idea, energetic in their desire to help you and me achieve success.
Peer group pressures also exist, especially prominent on social media platforms where we are encouraged to present superficial versions of ourselves.
All of this serves only to promote further the idea that there is an ideological self towards which we must strive.
It is a flawed concept, one that is ultimately damaging to individual creative expression.
Everybody is pretending to be somebody.
Do I Create Myself?
We all wear a mask to some degree.
We are all hiding something, sacrificing an aspect of ourselves for the sake of social inclusion and acceptance.
The underlying narrative of the social group is that it’s dangerous on the outside; it’s safe and warm on the inside.
There is something within us that wants to realise the feeling of belonging and in this need, there is the conflict that every human being seems to experience.
The creative person, the artist, is particularly disturbed by this draw towards acceptance on the one hand, and on the other, the draw towards the freedom of their individual creative expression.
The muse calls, yet the world calls too.
In our belief that we need to consistently occupy either one sense of self or the other, the socially acceptable self, or the independent creative self, we bring about a split in consciousness.
From a simple point of view, we can say, there is an individual self and a collective self.
Our society, everything we love and everything we despise is a perfect reflection of the collective self or collective unconscious as termed by psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
We might deride and disparage political leaders for their apparent ineptitude, but in this, we fail to see that they are a perfect reflection of the mass psyche of the population.
Sigmund Freud believed the individual self to be at the centre of all human experience and was the highest point of individuality.
When I say, I am… I am declaring what stands me apart from everyone else. But much of what I proclaim about myself is claimed by others also.
Aspects of our self-identity are shared with others in society and as such when I declare; I am an artist, I am ascribing a schema or an idea to myself which others also apply to themselves.
So do I create myself or does everyone else create me?
The Origin Of The Self
This question regarding the origins of the self is ages old and unlikely to be ever answered unequivocally.
Although we can speak of the self in individual terms and in collective terms, it may be more accurate to say that the self is a dynamic, shifting and changing entity.
It becomes what it will dependant on a host of varying factors.
For the creative surface level mind to find equilibrium in this world, it is imperative that it grasps this important concept; in reality, the existence of a surface level self (personality) may perhaps be merely a shadow of a deeper unknowable self and what it creates through us is its attempt to know itself in physical reality.
For it to know itself it must become something, it must declare through art, language or other forms of communication, what it is.
A Composite Self
The greatest challenge I believe to the integrity of the creative self is the duality of being, consisting of that which we are when we are alone or in the creative flow, and that which we are when influenced by others.
Others may not be present, but still, they affect our thoughts, ideas and behaviour. In our society, there is a relentless draw towards the centre, towards sameness, mediocrity and adherence to group norms.
These things can be ultimately destructive to the creative spirit.
Being drawn towards the centre, we risk losing our natural ability for creative and innovative thinking.
We can, of course, find gratification and artistic expression through collaboration, but often we see those opportunities are remote from the mainstream.
The mainstream demands our conformity; it requires it to exist.
Dissenting voices are castigated, reviled and dehumanised by the ruling classes, and at the extremes, they are often imprisoned or even executed.
The momentum of the world leans heavily towards a state of mind dependant on instant gratification and conformity, often sweeping us along with it.
Our role as artists is to break the momentum.
If there is one thing that is certain, it is that the self is in constant flux.
In a single moment, there is infinite change.
Just as the seasons, the days and the hours change, everything, including the self, changes.
On close examination, you may find that you are a different person when you are with your spouse than when you are with your friends.
Observe how you are with your father, then your mother.
Or if you have children, watch how you are with your youngest child versus your oldest child.
Observe your behaviour when you are at work versus when you are at play. You may see that you change depending on the place you are in too, even when you are with the same people.
Take a work night out for example.
It’s the same for others; everyone’s self-expression is in constant flux and exchange with everyone else and the environment.
So taking into account, the indisputable fact that the self is ever changing, the idea that you must “be yourself” is completely untenable.
To “be yourself” implies that you should be a constant unchanging thing, remaining largely the same, impervious to the relentless influences of your environment and other people.
Like a character in a book or a movie your personality is assumed to be the same for everyone with whom you interact.
This is what most people expect, both of themselves and of others.
But it merely demonstrates the underlying flawed premise ingrained in the human psyche that our personality should remain the same.
The self is a multi-faceted, moving, fluctuating thing, constructed from a myriad of touch points and exchanges through the conscious focal point that is you.
Sure, when you are alone, you may settle in a place closer to a point of equilibrium, assuming that is you allow yourself to switch off.
But even in that, you must accept that the creative self is an ever-changing composite entity.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
The Circularity of The Creative Self
As you read in the previous chapter covering Time, the nature of human existence is not a linear one, but a multidimensional one entirely happening in the cyclical moment of now.
The self is created in the same way. From thought comes language and from language comes activity.
For the artist or craftsperson, there is at first inspiration which may arise from a single or a series of real-world experiences.
Although, sometimes it may appear in mind as a sudden flash of an idea that we cannot attribute to anything specific.
Either way, thoughts (language) around the original idea begin to build.
We can’t know how long it will take for something substantial to come about. That varies from artist to artist and may take years.
However, once we maintain a focus of attention on the creation of our idea, then something will materialise.
So who are we bringing along for the ride?
What version of ourselves is it that is creating the thing?
Are you a starving artist, broke as a pie crust?
Do you lack an internalised secure sense of self, creating for the sake of peer recognition?
This consideration is crucial because whomever it is we think we are will be replicated over and over, and in many respects, be inflated by the results we see.
The surface level personality whom I refer to as I (the self), is continually shaped by experience.
Experience comes about by focus of attention on goals, dreams and aspirations.
Attention is that element of the broader self that allows me to focus my energy on the attainment of those goals through physical effort.
So we can see that the processes within consciousness are not linear, but circular, spiralling up to the heights of success or down to the lows of failure.
Either way, we make it all.