Cicero, an ancient Roman, once wrote that “art embraces those things of which we have knowledge.”
This belief was common in ancient Greek, where art was the distinct act of making things in accordance to rules. Specifically the existing rules of Nature. To the Greeks, nature was perfection. Mankind could not pursue anything outside of nature’s laws.
Introducing the concept of original thought back then was viewed as ridiculous, even absurd.
To Greeks, the artist was not a creator at all, but a discoverer of art from nature’s rules. It wasn’t until the Renaissance when the freedom to explore new thought – to create original work outside of nature’s laws – began to become acceptable. Even then, creativity was believed to exist only as an ethereal act, bestowed upon humans by a greater power.
The mere act of creation was ex nihilo, which is latin for “from nothing,” an act inaccessible to man. Thus the term divine inspiration. There was no way to fathom how original thoughts could occur in the brain, so the ancient belief in ethereal creativity is understandable.
As time progressed so did human’s understanding of the brain, and with that understanding insights into the way thoughts form. Today, we live in a time when creativity is understood to be not a divine inspiration or an act reserved solely for artists or poets. Creativity is, in reality, a naturally occurring process in the brain: the piecing together of seemingly unconnected concepts to form new ones.
Yet there are still countless creatives who would testify to creativity being an almost magical thing. Why is that?
There’s still magic to creativity because, at it’s core, we still don’t understand how it works. Scientists and neurologists of today don’t fully understand how thoughts form and expand in the brain, they simply know that thoughts do.
In this sense, creativity is very much like air. Even if you understand it and know that it’s not anything magical, that doesn’t make it any easier to see.
There’s still a lot of mystery and misunderstanding to creativity, yet it strikes many of us almost daily. It changes the way we use phones, it saves lives, it inspires and motivates and keeps us up at night. Perhaps, then, despite our scientific understanding, there really is some other worldly power instilling inspiration on us.
And that wonder is what makes it magical.
Photo by Sean McGrath.