More Thoughts on Creative Passion / by Jeannine Cook

I was fascinated to listen, this morning, to Krista Tippett's programme, Speaking of Faith, during which she was interviewing Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

During the wide-ranging conversation, Dr. Diamond alluded to passages of various books which she had assembled in a book to present to the Dalai Lama whom she saw at Dharamsala, India, during a Mind and Life Institute dialogue. She cited one that made me reflect on what I had been saying in my blog yesterday about passion driving artists in particular. She quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel from his book, "God and Man" and whilst the passage talks of a poet or a musician, the excerpt applies absolutely to visual artists too.

"Deeds set upon ideal goals, deeds performed not with careless ease and routine but in exertion and submission to their ends are stronger than the surprise and attack of caprice. Serving sacred goals may change mean motives. For such deeds are exacting. Whatever our motive may have been prior to the act, the act itself demands undivided attention. Thus the desire for reward is not the driving force of the poet in his creative moments, and the pursuit of pleasure or profit is not the essence of a religious or moral act. (My emphasis...)

At the moment in which an artist is absorbed in playing a concerto the thought of applause, fame or remuneration is far from his mind. His complete attention, his whole being is involved in the music. Should any extraneous thought enter his mind, it would arrest his concentration and mar the purity of his playing. The reward may have been on his mind when he negotiated with his agent, but during the performance it is the music that claims his complete concentration. (My emphasis again...) Man’s situation in carrying out a religious or moral deed is similar. Left alone, the soul is subject to caprice. Yet there is power in the deed that purifies desires. It is the act, life itself, that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good.”

What caught my attention was the issue of being totally involved in the act of creation, and not thinking of anything else like monetary reward, for instance. So often one hears of artists caught up in having to paint in a certain fashion because previous versions of the painting/drawing or whatever have sold well... and pretty soon, the art being created ceases to have the same impact and nears the situation of "pot boiler". Yes, of course, there are definitely economic considerations, especially now, but nonetheless, there is always this danger lurking of "arresting ... concentration and marring ... purity". In other words, the passion for creation has been dissipated.