Mysticism and creativity

Mysticism and creativity seem to have much in common.

In Jason Brown’s paper, “The Inward Path: Mysticism and Creativity”, (Creativity Research Journal, 20:4, 365 – 375, 2008) he draws many comparisons between the world of the mystic and the world of the artist.

Both artists and mystics have been inspired throughout the ages by divine powers, or muses. This is a heavenly place in consciousness that both mystic and artist retreat into to gather inspiration. The origin of the verb ‘inspire’ is actually “to take in spirit”.

Together, both artists and mystics seek truth, often through inner retreat. Both therefore have a need for isolation so that their acts of devotion may be performed and preparation is made for incubation and hopefully, enlightenment. A proper training is required by both the mystic and the artist, and both journeys involve a mysterious process, which is highly personal. Both have a desire for immortality and seek to channel a higher power in everyday life.

However, Brown suggests that “the mystic leaves the world the artist returns to” and reminds us that the mystic has no obligation to share or express his or her divine messages. It has long been said that “the arts are the messengers of the gods” and in Brown’s essay he points out that artists bring back inspiration from their divine source to share with the world creatively, a feeling shared by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray and Love.

Starting from the mystical, you can journey outwards into artistic expression. Can you also go back the other way? Can you look at a piece of art and look so deep into its source that you start to function at a higher level of consciousness?

The positivist in me says yes, definitely with certain pieces of music and art. For me, it would be Jim Long Uen’s delightful Buddhist Chants and Peace Music. The sounds and melodies of that piece take me to a divine place, every time I listen.  

The same thing happens to me with great works of classical art – Michaelangelo or Titian for example.

Have you ever had this experience with a work of art?

The body, according to Brown, is a deciding factor in volition, and separates the mystic from the artistic experience. I have to agree. The mystic, in meditation for example, may seek to deny the body any self-expression, while the artist seeks to channel the divine through his or her physical being, even though he may start with only a thought or mental image.

Brown also proposes that the mystic experiences a loss of subject/object boundary, whereas the artist does not. However in my own work, I have found some evidence to the contrary. Some forms of artistic expression like improvisation have this same aim: to make action one with reaction and create a holistic union between audience and performer. This usually involves a dissolving of the subject/object boundary and a surrender of volition to the genius or divine outside of the self.

Perhaps the distinction is then between the act itself and the product. Van Gogh’s chair seems to embody the very essence of chairness so much that it is easy to imagine him painting in a trance-like state, guided by unity with his subject and in fully inspired flow. Standing back to assess the work afterwards then requires the painter to separate the artistry from artwork.

Brown’s article has much more to offer on this subject. You can download it for free as a trial of the excellent Creativity Research Journal. More details can be found here.

What inspires you?

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2 thoughts on “Mysticism and creativity

  1. Great post! I have been fascinated by this topic. I think there has to be an underlying level of skill before transcendence occurs or maybe a “language” is a better word that communicates our mystic experience. The language may be music, art, film or language it self. The better you are at speaking the languange the more tools you can convey the mystical experience. I play guitar and believe “the spirit of God” inhabits me when I play. It is the easist way to access this but I feel a little “disabled” as my singing and songwriting abilities limit my communication or channeling of this.

  2. Interesting post … I’ve recently come across the work of Jason W. Brown and am finding it to be compelling. I checked out the Creativity Research Journal and couldn’t find the free download of the article. Do you know of anywhere else one might find it? Normally, I would just buy the article, but that want $36 or something like that, which is kind of crazy for an article. TIA for any info you might have.

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