Theatre in Wales

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Why Creativity is Over-valued

Summing It Up

Things That Do Not Help , the Culture of Wales , July 26, 2020
Summing It Up by Things That Do Not Help The list of 101 nights to remember, 3rd June below, is short on modern drama or comedy. Earlier articles in this strand surmised why Wales encounters difficulty with the modern world. One aspect is that there is no place for a work-out, where a playwright's first five or more plays can be done and got out of the way.

But there is another aspect; too much homage is paid to the notion, and the word, creativity.

“Self-expression and creativity are worthy reasons for public investment in their own right.” That was the view from the Culture Committee in the Senedd. It is a comment that is bland and offers no criteria for policy-making. It is all too familiar, characteristic of the lack of intellectual bite and frisson that emanates from that source. Self-expression has small relevance since all our actions are immanent in the self. The writer Peter Flannery was once suffering a block. Sleep solved it. He woke with the solution-"Why don't you get out of the play?"


Art-making is a mastering of form. It is true that makers from across the centuries report the exhilaration of absorption. Mikhail Czikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago has been the most-read populariser. His “the Psychology of Happiness” was handed out to all the members of Labour Cabinet for their summer reading in 1997. Czikszentmihalyi retermed Maslow's peak experience as “flow”, describing the process as:

“Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more “together” than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general.”

But the reports from across the ages speak little of self-expression. In as far as the experience can be annotated they speak of a lessening of the self in fusion with an identity outside it. Most of all the final state of making has been based on practice and repetition.

The elevation of the inner self is relatively new. Raymond Williams discusses it in his “Culture and Society 1780-1950”. The word “art” itself, he reminds his readers, comes from “artisan.” It is only recently that the emphasis on skill has been replaced by that of sensibility. Romanticism was the catalyst, but it had always been latent. In 1935 W H Auden wrote an article “Psychology and Art Today” in which he looked back to Socrates: “all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed.”

At the same time as the Romantics, around 1805, the word “creative” began to take on the meaning that it has today. Its extrapolation into a noun took place over the last decade, probably encouraged by the concept of the creative industries. That designation has its oddities. A public relations statement- where no novel thing has emerged- is deemed creative. By contrast to synthesise a molecule or to make a vaccine lies outside the official classifications of creation. Software is creative and hardware is not. One day in the last decade the output of the creative industries jumped overnight by £4,600,000,000. Accountancy had been added to the roster.

Every movement creates its counter-movement. The nineteenth century went from the Romantics to the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris: “that talk of inspiration is sheer nonsense: there is no such thing; it is a matter of craftsmanship.”

A good and crisp study of the process of creativity is the one by Anthony Storr. In “The Dynamics of Creation”, from 1972, he describes the precise opposite of self-expression. It is to do with objectivity. “One human capacity that is enormously important in certain types of creative achievement is that of abstraction, the ability to divorce thinking from feeling and to be more concerned with the relation between concepts than with the objects from which the concepts originated.”

Art is pattern-making. Personal opinions deaden it. Peter Brook knows his Shakespeare and was clear about this in his book “the Quality of Mercy”: “He does not use his characters to speak his thoughts, his ideas. He never imposes his world onto the world he lets appear….He never judged- he gave an endless multitude of points of view with their own fullness of life, leaving the questions open both to the humanity and the intelligence of the spectator.”

The route to form is slow, unsparing and repetitive via dedication to craft. Ten years ago I wrote a response to a young person who asked a query about how to go about being a writer for theatre. The better way is to become a more expansive human being. Mikhail Czikszentmihalyi advocates complexity in consciousness.

“Be a person who is more than a writer”, was how I wrote it, “The best writers for theatre have been doctors, actors, architects, journalists, psychologists, tree surgeons, theatre producers. If you become an auditor, a games developer, an undertaker you will see in a matter of a few years enough of love, cruelty, greed, folly, ambition, moral compromise to sustain you for decades. Spend a winter on a sheep farm and you will learn more of death and loss, politics and money than any course will teach you."

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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