Creating Free Will

Click here for audio: 72615_Free_Will.mp3

Creating free will:

“An artist is forced by others to paint out of his own free will.” So said one of my favorite artists, Willem de Kooning.

Recently, I discovered a few old sketchbooks with drawings I had done between college and now. Then, I was compelled to keep a sketchbook, if only to compare notes with fellow art students while we relaxed after classes. I must say, I am liking these memories, and I also like using the images in new and interesting ways as digital files.

However, it strikes me that I can remember some of these discussions, and the thoughts behind the scribbles, memories that had lain silent for up to 40 years. Yes, I am lucky to have this opportunity to reform and refine my creativity, but another notion comes to mind. I am a victim of a creative urge, one that takes over my thoughts until I have put pen or image to paper or screen.

Since college, I haven’t given much thought to the idea of free will/determinism. But isn’t an artistic activity a way of exercising free will when I am choosing the time and the place to work? Or is it a part of my life formed by early experience and inherited trait? Since today, the excitement of creating art is still alive, I must imagine that there is something beyond the ordinary at work. Otherwise, how can I or anyone make sense of these so-called creative urges.

The prominent psychologist, Erich Fromm said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” I can definitely agree that there is something going on, something that can’t be defined simply. Is this the burden of creativity. Even though, with computerized images, I can experiment and travel in different directions as I please, yet I am at the beck and call of something that seems beyond my everyday life. The certainties are indeed left behind.

After all, Albert Einstein said “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Free will is something that comes and goes. You see, as for those sketchbooks, there are many hidden meanings and references to my life at the time of the piece. I carefully dated each, and can recall what caused the piece to happen, what compulsion made me drop all else and draw. I can see that a theme would appear and reappear years later in another book, on another page. But the reasons are well-hidden, sometimes even to me.

There are times when I don’t feel creative. Other times, though, like an unbidden thought, it pushes through and takes control of my actions. Is this determinism, or is this simply a lack of free will?

There is no antidote for creativity. One is so overwhelmed by the need to stop and deal with the new drawing, or digital piece, that I can almost say it’s a lack of free will. The fear of making a mistake, of planning one thing and have another thing happen, is a part of creativity for me. As an artist, how do I know this piece or that piece will please others? I don’t. I must rely on and trust my own intuition, and trust that my free will has spoken.

It must be true, what the popular TV show artist Bob Ross said “There are no mistakes, only happy little accidents.”

So, past and future artists, what does free will mean to you?


Presented as part of a UUCMC summer service by SisterCircle, 7/15


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