I love the beginning of the beginning. G-d, the first artist, created something from nothing. Six days of creativity, G-d paused to evaluate. And the critique? It was good, it was very good.
We are also told in Bereshit, that we’re created B’tselem Elohim, in the image of G-d. Yet, we don’t draw from this rich wellspring of creativity, our greatest natural resource. Instead we tell ourselves, we’re not creative. We don’t dance or sing or draw or write. But this just isn’t true.
Pablo Picasso shared an important insight. “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” We need to destroy these blocks to reclaim our unused gift of creativity. Fear of what others think, doubts, self-judgment, self-consciousness, blur our self-image as co-creators of the world. They limit us from reflecting on our creations, to also say, it’s good.
When we do this, we become the best version of ourselves. We get closer to living in joy and to putting more goodness in the world, especially when we’re face to face with adversity.
We all have adversity. Loss of loved ones, financial challenges, internal conflicts, and now, a shared global pandemic.
However, we have a choice about how to respond. Our Rabbis tell us that we have two inclinations. There’s a good one, yetzer tov, while yetzer hara is considered a bad one, where we misuse things. Rabbi Luzzatto believes that we have the power to choose either side both knowingly and willingly.
When we’re creative, we are led by our good inclination and many positive character traits are activated. Creativity is a remarkable and effective tool in our tool belt, constantly with us for facing adversity. It repairs the heart.
We see this in Exodus with the ongoing adversity of slavery, followed by the tumultuous long awaited departure from Egypt. With tambourine in hand and motion in her feet, Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron led the women. She did this with the only adequate expression for the joy of freedom on the other side of the sea. Their awe and wonder was released through full, embodied, lively dance.
Dance is still a strong, physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual response to human troubles. In The Dance Cure, Dr. Peter Lovatt, dance psychologist in London calls it a “transformative power.” Creative action through movement is a universal non-verbal way to express adversity. “How long, oh Lord. How long must I devise resolve in my soul, grief in my heart daily?” Inspired by David’s lament from this Tehillim, I choreographed Endure to ‘Prelude no. 2’ by Gershwin and taught it to dancers in Israel who understand a lifestyle of hardship.
Marc Chagall experienced anti-Semitism as a child in his homeland Russia. His Jewish background was a prism that he viewed the world through. It served as the language of his art that has been loved worldwide. In Leaves from My Notebook he has this to say. “If I were not a Jew . . . I wouldn’t have been an artist, or I would be a different artist altogether.” Chagall, whose immense body of work has been called Hebrew jazz in paint also wrote about his creative process. “If I create from my heart, nearly everything works, if from my head, almost nothing.”
Works of art created from personal affliction, in any medium, can activate the adaptive positive defense mechanism, sublimation. This is when feelings are re-channeled into socially or culturally productive outlets. A mature process for transformation through creativity, we see this in Picasso’s Blue Period, a three year tribute to friend Carles Casagemas.
This rich place of creativity and character using a positive defense, isn’t just for the trained artist. It’s for the everyday person. We’re created in the image of G-d, who first created, so this is in all of us.
When we’re creative, we also trigger each other’s good inclination to connect in a way that is real and refreshing. I’ve seen this vibrant connection over and over with students at DePaul University. The synergy, innovation, collaborative spirit, and respect is exceptional.
Students from all majors who take my course Creativity & Adversity, discover untapped creativity through a final project called a transcending work of art. Sublimating hardships through drawing, painting, poetry, sculpture, photography, multimedia, music, or dance, the work is highly original and authentic. Created from colored pencil, this nuanced drawing expresses one student’s pandemic experience in Spring quarter 2020.
How do you go about painting that image, writing that poem, composing that song, or making that dance? Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz has a three part pattern. First is ecstasy, that pristine flash of energy, the AHA moment that we all have and need to recognize and honor. Next is pain. All that Rabbi Tatz means here is the very hard work to take that infinite idea and put it into a tangible, finite form. When we do, we complete the pattern with transition to transcendence. He calls that place, the resolution of doubts.
January Thirtyfirst was my transcending work of art. Created from my beloved mother’s passing, the choreography and thesis revealed a valuable depth of understanding about the significant relationship of grief and creativity.
When we’re led by our good inclination, personal creativity, and positive defense of sublimation through rough paths of life, it can become a better trip. May you activate these rich inner resources, bring feelings and ideas into form, then pause, look at your creation and say, it’s good, yes, it’s very good!