This coming November 22, for many of us, will be a day for somber reflection, as it marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. However, this date also commemorates the patron saint of music, St. Cecilia and the 100th birthday of one of England’s greatest composers, Benjamin Britten. Musing on those two happy occasions has inspired me to consider one of the greatest qualities of being human—creativity.
The images we generally conjure when we think of a creative act may fall into several categories. There is the tortured artist, struggling to summon inspiration from a fickle muse. Or there is the effortlessly brilliant creator, spontaneously bringing works to life. There are the pathfinders, discovering answers to questions no one thought to ask, or the iconoclasts stunning us with their audacity. It’s easy to think of creativity as this mysterious substance, provided to a talented few that astonish or appall us with what they do with it.
When called upon to use our own imaginations, are we sometimes reluctant, believing that our efforts would pale in comparison to those of “real artists?” Yet, as I walk around the campus, and I get to know more and more members of the St. Mary’s community, what I find striking is how richly creative we are. Consider the gallimaufry of outfits we wear, the mashup of colors and textures that delight the eye (and sometimes puzzle the mind). Consider the astonishing array of clubs, activities, programs that take place night and day—and given the broad participation in them, it appears that we do!
How to define creativity? I don’t believe it is an elusive concept, but it can be described a number of ways. Pursuing a creative idea could be like a treasure hunt, where you exert energy and single-mindedness to capture a glittering prize. Or it may be like fitting pieces to a puzzle, the overall shape of which may be unknown until it is assembled. Sometimes it feels like being submerged in a warm, fragrant bath, where pleasant notions flow over and through you. Sometimes a creative act results in a tangible object, or a concrete experience. More often, creativity is found in the journey more than in the destination. We may think of the creative act as an individual effort, springing from an inner necessity to express what is felt inside. However, I can also see creativity as a shared experience, depending on our ability to interact and collaborate.
I find that, by engaging with brilliant works of art, I can liberate my own creativity. Whether it is looking deeply at the paintings of Kandinsky, rocking to the rhythms of Langston Hughes’ poetry, or performing the choral music of Britten, I feel as a kindred spirit to these artists. I am not a passive receptacle, but a participant in the creative impulse. In our encounters with creative works, we, in turn, become creators ourselves.
I encourage you—I challenge you—to allow your creative side to blossom in your everyday life. Write your next Facebook post or tweet in the form of a haiku. As you pass by some of the wetland areas on the path, listen for animal sounds you’ve never noticed before. My guess is that you can come up with ideas even more wildly creative; after all, that’s part of the St. Mary’s Way.