Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 14 : The Arts in Culture > Chapter 2 : Creativity, Genius

Creativity, Genius


The true self is the creative centre within us.

The creative mind brings forth the Eternal Present out of the unlimited; the ordinary mind brings forth mere echoes out of its limited past experiences alone.

A work is creative if it is originally conceived, that is, if the process of giving its basic and fundamental ideas birth is an intuitive, illuminating, and inspirational one.

It is a mistake to believe that this creativity comes only by a sudden flash. It may also come by graduated degrees. The difference depends on the resistance met.

The original creative mind initiates its own ideas, but where do they come from? You might as well ask where does all inspiration come from. There are deeper levels of the human consciousness which feed the inspired person at times. It is beyond emotion and beyond thinking, although we express its promptings through these things.

No artist really creates anything. All he can do is to try to communicate to others in turn what has been communicated to him.

If he succeeds in transmitting through the medium of his work something of the inspiration he receives, be he priest or artist, he is truly creative.

A true artist will search for forms worthy of his inspiration, its beauty and power.

Those who write, paint, draw, compose, and sculpt should bring their creations from spheres of inspiration which are radiant with light. Yet too many do the very opposite and present us with misshapen figures, patterns, poems, and musical pieces which nullify hope, meaning, and order and enshroud gloom.

The creative power of man, working through imagination or sensitivity, has brought to birth the musical composition, the painted picture, the written novel, and other great forms of art. They are the forms which move feeling and inspire action.

The artist who is inspired by nothing higher than the thirst for dollars and cents, fame and notoriety, power and influence, will never produce the highest possible art.

It is the task of a creative thinker to give out new ideas.

The creative faculty should be cultivated and developed as both a great aid to, and an expression of, spiritual growth.

The processes of meditation are analogous, up to a certain point, to the processes of artistic creation.

The need of self-expression in creative effort is paramount with the artist. His job is his joy. This inner relationship to his work is important and satisfying.

It is not enough for the writer, the poet, the painter, or the composer of music to be original, for some men have found original forms of murder and of robbery. Moreover, insanity has not seldom passed among the artists for originality. Also it has been associated with exhibitionism and with neuroticism, with the desire for publicity, to draw attention to oneself. In short, it can be a malady of the ego. He who is truly original learns to think for himself and especially to be aware for himself--resisting the influences, the suggestions, and the pressures of his surroundings. All human beings are destined to develop until they acquire this kind of originality, for then they will come close to the fulfilment of the main purpose of human existence.

Originality is certainly and eagerly to be welcomed, but when it means sacrificing everything worthwhile, when its revolution is aggressive only in order to surprise by its ugliness or shock by its coarseness, when it becomes meaningless to the audience and insulting as a so-called artistic production, it ought to be firmly rejected.

Why should we not give a great genius a little extra latitude to break society's rules? In a few years he will be gone forever but the power of his work will continue to impregnate so many minds for so long a time. And it is this that really matters to us, not his brief peccadilloes or shortcomings.

For the sake of a few possible geniuses who might appear among them, the hordes of pseudo-, mediocre, uninspired, or untalented artists have to be endured. Alas! we wait and wait for their masterpieces. Most perhaps have a shallow sincerity, being young and lured to art as a seemingly easy means of making a living or acquiring fame; but they have too little knowledge, no real creativity at all, and only a capacity for imitation. This explains why their work lacks quality and will pass away: an imitated eccentricity is not fresh discovery nor true vision of the universe's order.

Their self-conscious attempts to appear original may justify criticism but at least they show appreciation of the idea that originality is creative, is a ripple from the higher levels of our being, is something to be admired, valued, and sought for.

To be creative in the full sense it is not enough to put the thought into words: the picture must summarize and suggest it. Both must go deep down and touch, even disappear into, the Stillness.

To stimulate his creativity in whatever field he engages in, he should bring a more loving interest into it. For instance, the artist who loves his work is likely to be more creative than the one who engages in it without such feeling.

The two things which anyone needs to become creative, whether in any of the arts, sciences, or crafts, in professional skills, or even in the art of living itself, are first, the instrument, and second, the inspiration. Technique, talent, ability are not enough. Originality, freshness, great power, genius come from above.

The artist, the writer, or the composer who feels that he is getting into his stride on a piece of work, feels also an exultant joy.

An artistic production that is really inspired must give joy to its creator at the time of creation equally as to its possessor, hearer, or beholder. If it does not, then it is not inspired.

The imagination can people a man's atmosphere with creations that are devilish or heavenly, can draw other men downward or lift them upward. Being a creative artist does not entitle anyone to complete license or justify his claim to being the highest type. There are other considerations.

His art is made out of his inner life. If that is crooked, insane, or horrible, if thoughts and feelings are in a tangled mess, then the poems, pictures, or music will correspond to it and be just as distorted or unbalanced.

Let a man withdraw far enough from the active world and the impetus for creative work will withdraw with him. For, belonging no more to that life, he loses interest in it.

It is not only the mystic and the meditator who may pass through a dark night of the soul, but also the artist. He may find that his creative faculty seems to have deserted him. Either he will do no work at all or discontinue what he has been trying to do and change to a different work in which he can summon up an interest. He knows that one day the phase will pass and this may be in a matter of days, weeks, or months.

Another cause of unequal value in productions, of deterioration in form and spirit, is that the artist or writer may outlive his creative powers.

Those sterile weeks are known by every artist, when words are dragged out from the pen as though they were teeth, and when inspiration turns disappointingly into a mirage.

Most of us know that inspiration flickers--or it simply dries up. At such times the object is usually put aside until the light returns. This procedure is quite sensible from a practical working standpoint. However, it ignores the fact that there are layers of consciousness, and that when one layer dries up, it's worthwhile to penetrate the deeper one--for it exists.

Genius, inspiration, technique

Genius flashes from facts to conclusion, while argument slowly labours step by step in sorting them out.

What is it that manifests itself during the creative moments of genius? A current of force from the Overself! Its inspiration acts as a catalyzer, that is, it releases the creative imagination, which sets to work to provide an appropriate form for its manifestation.

It is from this level of consciousness just before that of the Overself that all great art and all great ideas derive, presenting themselves to the conscious mind as inspirations or intuitions.

All great drama did not die with Shakespeare, and all great philosophy has not perished with Plato. Perhaps there are brighter souls than theirs waiting to be born during this century. The infinite storehouse whence genius draws its wealth is not less infinite in the twentieth than it was in the sixteenth century.

The genius is both receptive and expressive. What he gets intuitively from within he gives out again in the forms of his art or skill.

The most valuable contribution which any artist or writer can make to the world is to let himself be carried away by inspired moods when he can give utterance to the Overself's voice, radiate its beauty, dispense its wisdom, and show its benignity.

The artist must raise the cup of his vision aloft to the gods in the high hope that they will pour into it the sweet mellow wine of inspiration. If his star of fair fortune favours him that day, then must he surrender his lips to the soft lure of the amber-coloured drink that sets care aflying and restores to the tongue the forgotten language of the soul. For these sibylline inspirations of his come from a sky that is brighter than his own, and he cannot control it.

The inspired individual does not need to rehash and deliver other people's ideas. His power is creative; through his medium, truth or beauty are born anew.

He creates, not to express his small personality as so many others do, but to escape from it. For it is to the divine which transcends him, which is loftily impersonal, that he looks for inspiration.

The inspired man does not work in order to submit his pages to the fine taste and delicate nose of the literary critics; nor does he write to entertain the bored or to provide fresh subjects for the tittle-tattle of parlour and club. He writes because he MUST.

The supremely gifted artist who works primarily out of pure love of his art--whether it be writing, painting, or music--rather than out of love of its rewards, sometimes approaches and arrives at this same concept through another channel. Such a genius unconsciously throws the plumbline of feeling into the deep mystery of his being. He is lifted beyond his ordinary self at his most inspired moments. He feels that he is floating in a deeper element. He receives intimations of the pure timeless reality of Mind, whose beauty, he now discovers, his best works have vainly sought to adumbrate. The flash of insight is granted him, although if he is only an artist and not also a philosopher he may not know how to retain it.

The actor who never loses his own ego in the personage he is portraying may be a man of much talent, but he may not be a genius.

The artist has this advantage over the intellectual, that he recognizes sooner, obstructs less often, and obeys more quickly the intuitive prompting.

If the artist becomes truly inspired he will not seek to bring horror to men but rather beauty. This will be so whatever way it shows itself--colour, sound, word, or form. The final step is not with beauty for its own sake but for what it points and leads to--the beautiful Consciousness which awaits man, the inner beauty.

If he composes, paints, sculpts, or writes as the light within shows him the thing or thought to be depicted--not as opinion, bias, or untruth urges him--he will be truly inspired.

There is this quality about an inspired work, that you can come back to it again and again and discover something fresh or helpful or beautiful or benedictory.

Such an inspired production gives out a form of energy which makes those who can receive it with enough sympathy feel and see what its creator felt and saw. There is an actual transmission.

The inspiration will come to the extent that he lets go of himself when he opens the piano, to the degree that he forgets that he is the artist, the writer, when he takes up the brush, the pen.

Perhaps it is a matter of sustained power of concentration. Perhaps the genius has this ability to maintain steady and unbroken concentration upon the part played without a break so that thoughts of self-consciousness or of what the audience is thinking do not have the power to enter in. Therefore, the artist who has successfully mastered the art of meditation should be able to transfer the qualities so developed to the work of creation or of composition in his art and thus attain a state of genius. For to sit without moving, intensely concentrated, held completely by the object of concentration, is one way of providing part of the necessary conditions for artistic creativity.

His objective is to receive a communication whose inspiration remains pure, uncoloured, and undistorted, whereas too many others use their art as a pretext to put forward the twisted constructions or illusory imaginations of their own little egos.

He will express himself and his aspirations fully only when he, his body, and his thoughts are unified.

It would be hard to find and state new metaphysical or spiritual truth at this late date of human culture. But a brilliant mind may state it in such an unexpected and perceptive way as to give it the force of a new revelation.

Artistic composition and production, aesthetic style and method, involve the artist's freedom if he is to do really worthwhile creative work originating in his own deepest inner life, that of his secret spiritual identity. He must be determined to keep uncommitted.

If imagination is permitted to wander unbalanced, unchecked, totally free, it may lead to genius, inspiration, or to lunacy, disorder.

Sensitivity and passivity are needed to absorb inspiration. If they are not inborn, they will have to be studied and copied for a long while before they can appear of their own accord and be truly personal.

The creations of inspired art deserve appreciation for that which is beyond their technical excellence.

He is ever alert for that faint but fascinating beginning of an intuitive thought.

Those art productions which emerge from this higher state of consciousness have a quality which the other kind lack.

Whatever medium an artist works with, whatever sounds or words or sights, and whatever technique he develops and applies, he still needs both concentration and inspiration.

A pet cat often settled on the long and broad cuff of Muhammed's sleeve when he was writing, thus interrupting his work in Arabia, but a butterfly occasionally settled on the pencil of W.H. Davies, the tramp poet, and perhaps assisted his verse-making in a little Kentish cottage. Yet who knows, the pauses of inaction may have allowed Muhammed to relapse into meditation and thus, indirectly, assisted or enriched the subsequent writing.

The singer gifted with a voice which can exalt and inspire men, the artist endowed with a talent which compels them to pause and behold, may each be used as a channel for the Overself.

The quality of sublime inspiration distinguishes the true artist from the mere technician.

Even the most inspired mystic needs technical skill and developed intellect to convey his message adequately to his readers. The more he lacks them, the more inarticulate will he be--no matter how strong his inspiration. The more that adequate experience and competent technique are missing from his equipment, the more will he fail to fulfil his own intention and the less will his readers be able to gather in whatever values he represents to them. To know is one thing; the talent to present what you know is another.

It is true that education gives a man the power to express in word forms or artistic productions what he thinks or feels. It is also true that an uneducated man may have a far deeper content much more worth expressing. But unless the latter is able to radiate some of this content by silent look, glance, or touch, he will actually not be able to give others as much as the former.

The artist, the craftsman, or the writer who has mastered his professional technique remains a workman if he stops there. But if he learns to enter into the spiritual part of himself, if he practises going into its creative quiet before he begins producing anything, he becomes something more and his production becomes inspired.

In matter and manner, in content and technique, in substance and style, the productions of the faultless artist who is only technically competent will never equal those of the faultless artist who is also spiritually mature.

The creative mind needs several conditions to promote its work. Among them secrecy during conception and solitude during inspiration are helpful.

The creative poet, writer, or artist who meditates, even for a short while, before his work begins gains proportionately in the visible results.

The creator of inspired music, poetry, pictures, and books must work alone if his production is to keep its high quality. If he works in a group he has to struggle to keep his inspiration, as well as to avoid distraction.

The skill of the artist, craftsman, poet, painter, composer, or whatever must meet and unite with the inspiration of the glimpse: then there is true creativity in his work.

The artist has two functions: to receive through inspiration and to give through technique.

Inspiration for a writer does not necessarily mean that the sentences come tumbling through like poured water, or for a painter that the brush-strokes rush across the canvas. It may, but also it may not. What it does mean is an inflow from a deeper source, neither a calculation by the intellect nor a movement by the egoistic emotion. Its first sign is that it is really a smooth flow, whether slow or rapid or waited for. Its second sign is a freedom from doubts, the presence of certainty, sureness, and a sense of rightness. Its third sign is the quiet joy which either accompanies or ends the work, for it is truly a creative act.

The author who asks for light on the subjects in his book, who prays for guidance in the writing of it and for inspiration in the doing of it when the little ego cannot see its way, can gain truth and power from on high to do a really outstanding creative job if he knows the technique of inducing the "Interior Word" to speak within Him. This Voice, heard in meditation, is so compelling and so inspirational that it will provide all that he seeks.

The superior artist in China is more of a mentalist than his Western equivalent. For he does not just sit down and paint what he sees, whether model or landscape. He sits down quite a few times but makes no attempt to record what he sees. He lets his mind's eye do that. When the time comes to paint the picture, he remains alone in his studio and transfers the mental record.

For an aesthetic work to be born, one should first turn the mind inward, get it quiet, and then let the mind go back and let the senses reveal what they can of full and real beauty.

The happy and unusual satisfaction which the creative worker of any kind--and especially the artist or writer--feels when he has become deeply immersed for hours in a particular piece of work is a remote ripple of the bliss in which the second self is always itself immersed and to which his prolonged concentration brought him nearer. Again and again through this concentration he stumbles against and unwittingly opens a door in his mind which gives access to the ante-court of the Overself. In the creative experience he begins to find fulfilment but in the spiritual he completes it.

What he feels is one thing; what he can express is another. The distance between these two depends on his command of technique not less than on his receptivity to inspiration. The great artist is great in both these respects.

The way a thought is expressed, the style in which a teaching is conveyed, possesses a value which is highly exaggerated by the intellectualistic or the artistic but highly undervalued by the mystic and ascetic.

Although technical equipment is not all there is to the practice of art, it must be mastered. Without it, inspiration suffers from a faulty or deficient medium.

Creative work, insofar as it truly touches the depths and heights of inspiration, takes our minds out of our personal troubles and thus gives us temporary peace--for it brings the impersonal Overself into contact with our troubled person and the contact provides us with a higher point of view. Those moments of artistic inspiration when the mind becomes almost incandescent are always moments of intense concentration and rapt absorption. "It is from this condition of their being (trance), in its most imperfect form, that Poetry, Music, Art--all that belong to an idea of Beauty--take their immortal birth."--Lytton's Zanoni

Inspiration gives a man the strengthened faith and virile force to work; but he himself must find the words or sounds for the results--the written poem or musical piece.

Creative inspiration can charge words, sounds, paint, or stone with magical power.

The composition is technical but the inspiration is mystical.

Skill with the use of an author's pen does not necessarily indicate a higher consciousness.

Buddha says in the Lankavatarasutra: "Mahamati, it is like the mastery of comedy, dancing, singing, music, lute-playing, painting, and other arts, which is gained gradually and not simultaneously; in the same way, Mahamati, the purification of the Tathagata of all beings is gradual and not instantaneous." Years of practice give the sculptor or the painter a dexterity of the hand which is a marvel for witnesses of his work.

A genius who possesses poor technique and deficient mechanism will never be a complete master of his art. His productions will always be imperfect ones.

He who puts his skills as a craftsman, an artist, or a public servant to the service of his essential self, his diviner self, puts them to the best use.

Good art is not complete unless it has both praiseworthy technique and inspiration, form and content.

A writer's or artist's value depends not only on his technical equipment but also on his being manipulated by the Overself.

If he lacks this inspired creativeness he will produce mere toys to entertain people, not spiritual treasures to enrich them.

The true artist--that is to say, the inspired artist--must necessarily be sparse in his output. So alone can he keep up the choice quality of his work.

The truth can be put in short plain words and short easy sentences or it can be put in polysyllabic words and long winding sentences. It is not the higher power which uses the one kind or the other, but the author himself.

The inspiration comes from beyond time; the formulation in thought, picture, pattern, or sound takes place in time.