I just finished reading “Creativity – Where the Divine and the Human Meet” by Matthew Fox, written in 2002. Fox is the author of at least 22 other philosophical books for the modern age that reach back to cultures, religious, and civilizations to illuminate our lives with his Zen-like knowledge. When you read his books the information just slowly seethes into your mind until you look back at the end of the chapter and realize you’ve taken in a tremendous volume of information.
The book “Creativity” caught my eye because of its simple title and the size of this little hard cover book. I thought I could read it easily in one weekend. I must admit, I was wrong. This is a philosophically deep book that you cannot just rush through. You have to take in every word, each chapter when you have the time to dedicate to it and can sit and give what Fox is saying serious thought. Here’s one line in chapter two…
“Scholars of evolutionary history are telling us today biological evolution is being overwhelmed by cultural evolution. The human species, which evolves by culture more than by slow-moving biological change, is overwhelming the planet. All the more reason to examine that element that makes human culture so amazingly rich and fast-moving: human creativity.”
That is only one sentence in Fox’s book and as you can see it is not a fast read. You must read like you would experience a fine wine. Swirl it around, sniff the meaning of his words and slowly decipher what he is trying to portray in front of you in black and white.
I was secondly drawn to the book because I was curious as to how much could be written on the topic of creativity. You will be amazed just how much depth this subject has after reading “Creativity.” In Chapter one Fox asks us the age old question - Who Are We As A Species? In this chapter Fox speaks candidly about humans actually not being consumers, not being addicts, not being passive couch potatoes, not being boring, needing not to be bored, not being mere machine, not being lazy, or destroyers. He closes this paragraph by saying, “Creativity may be the nearest one-word definition we posses for the essence of our humanity, for the true meaning of “soul.”
In chapter 2 – Creativity, Our True Nature - Fox takes us on a journey through pre-modern times in African caves to current times to which he speaks of the birthing process of creativity from one generation to another. He also spent some time talking about neurosis in the creative process. He quoted Psychologist Otto Rank throughout the book and in this chapter Rank observes that “at once creator and creature, in neurosis the creative expression of will is a negative one, resting on the denial of the creator role.” In other words neurotic creativeness often ends in a destructive way. (Of course art is in the eye of the beholder so I didn’t agree with where that chapter went.) The chapter ended with the ideas that fierce imaginations can be used for creativity blessings or evil.
Chapter 3 – Where Does Creativity Come From? Fox had a smorgasbord of ideas in this chapter as to ‘where’ our creativity comes from such as the Universe, our joys and sorrows, and from and in the heart of God. Our maker in relations to creativity is a theme visited throughout the book as Fox has devoted his life to Christianity studies and was even censured by the Vatican in 1989.
Chapter 4 – What Happens When the Creative Spirit and We Co-Create? Fox takes the opportunity in this part of the book to explain that he is “happiest and loses all sense of time, place, self-consciousness, being lost in the temple, the Divine space of perpetual creativity – that brings great joy. A joy no one can take from us.” He also explores courage and that in order to create one must explore their deepest self and to let the depth of the world’s struggles and joys, torments and agony all fuel the creative process. Meister Eckhart is quoted by Fox as saying that few people bear fruit of creativity because they cling to their egotistical attachments and are so afraid of letting go and letting be that they have no trust either in God or in themselves.
Chapter 5 Adam and Prometheus, Creativity and the Christ: Is Original Sin the Refusal to Create, and is Redemption the Liberation of Creativity? The artist’s ability to cleans and recycle the toxins in culture and start another project anew is compared to the popular biblical story about Prometheus who was tied to a rock for stealing fire of the gods. After the vultures ate his liver his liver grew back each night, the liver being symbolically like the artist. I found this to be a creative execution of analogy/story telling on Fox’s part. He also made some comparison to Adam and Eve that I found creatively interesting. Keep in mind that Fox is an Episcopal Priest and as such has the theological background to make these creative/religious comparisons.
By the time you’ve reached chapter 5, the book has become somewhat challenging, theoretically, at least it did for me, but it’s a book you won’t want to put down because Chapter 6 through Conclusion is the best stuff yet.
Chapter 6 Revisioning Easter and Pentecost: Rolling Away the Obstacle to Creativity So That the Spirit of Creativity Can Resurrect This was one of my favorite chapters because it brought in participants from workshops that talked about their fears of failures. I also liked the idea of resurrection, a rolling away of the boulder so that the natural process of creativity might emerge. Fox spent some time talking about embracing solitude and aloneness in this chapter, which is so imperative to the creative process.
Chapter 7 Taping Into the Creative Spirit: Finding, Honoring, and Practicing Creativity To be creative, according to Fox, we have to get in touch with nature. We first have to get in touch with our soul, but we also have to learn to praise the earth, the sky, the trees, the animals, and the water. In a Taoist fashion we must learn to praise our ability to see what is. “Open our eyes and trust what we see.” One must open himself to joy as well as enter into the darkness (experience pain) and meditate daily. Lastly, Fox believes we should honor the child inside all of us and play.
Chapter 8 Where Do We Go From Here? Putting Creativity to Work in Culture and Everyday Life Fox spoke of the future of education in our school systems, in politics and our culture. He starts the chapter out by saying “Awakening imagination can arouse our creativity to solve problems and move our species to its next level of evolutional development.” We are in an educational crisis in our school systems both in the United States and abroad. I couldn’t begin to summarize his education section as well as I should (you need to read his book) but let me leave you with this quote: “Creativity is fun. There ought to be no fear of fun in the classroom. Fun belongs everywhere in a postmodern time. The direr the times, the more we need fun in our lives and culture. By letting imagination in, we are letting fun in. When fun returns, fantasy finds it healthy place, options are put before us, possibilities return. Hope happens, for hope is about the possible, while despair is about the impossible. Creativity banishes despair – at least for a while. An education in creativity will bring about hope if not optimism.”
I will end the review on those optimistic words. I highly recommend “Creativity – Where the Divine and the Human Meet” to anyone who has a creative spirit. The entire book is a gift to your sense of creative wonderment. I enjoyed it from cover to cover. This book will make you think long and hard about the philosophy of many aspects of creativity and when you’re done with this wonderful read, you will never look at creativity the same.