The Courage to Create

The Courage to Create by Rollo May

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went to an Art Gallery last year for the first time.

I’ll be honest in saying that while I felt prepared to appreciate the masterpieces that I would see, I got bored very quickly indeed.

Having finished this book, I feel like I could definitely go back and see things in an entirely different, more appreciative light. Rollo May does a fantastic job explaining a lot of the psychological phenomenon that occur for an artist (or indeed a general problem solver) when making a new work.

He very interestingly calls art the ‘uncreated conscience of the human race’, in that artists and inventors (its only now after reading this book now I now conflate the two) generally work on the borders of reality. They attempt to describe and give form to what may lie in the collective conscience of the human race. When we see what they make, we often instantly recognise it and accept it as a physical manifestation of what we have always felt. We accept it as a familiar friend. This I found fascinating.

The chapter on the historical use of Oracles by the Ancient Greeks was a fascinating example of how myths and legends could be used to give meaning to people and help them solve their own problems, though the answers they received were vague (not unlike the vagueness that persists in todays ‘horoscopes’), these vague answers combined with the already present sense of determination in an individual (evidenced by their dangerous journey up the mountain to see her in the first place) meant that the individual had everything they needed to find the answer within themselves after the consultation had taken place. I found this interesting with the similarities drawn with modern day therapy, and it was brilliantly explained that Therapists today are intentionally vague for that same reason. They try to get their patients to think in new ways by reframing our own thoughts, they aren’t there to provide answers!

Back to the concept of art, May explains that every piece of art made by an Artist is the result of an ‘encounter’ between the Artist and the thing he is trying to replicate. This encounter is unique both in the sense of what the Artist has understood reality as he has experienced it and in his interpretation of it in his art. The work then made by the Artist will also reflect his thoughts, feelings and anxieties and those of his time. The evidences for all these feelings sound ever present in the artwork itself. This breakdown makes absolute sense to me and I’m happy to have understood this from the book.

The last point I wanted to mention was regarding the solution to an ongoing problem or the inspiration for a work of art coming to an individual when they least expect it. I myself have found many answers and processes coming into my mind randomly while focused on other tasks, or even during no tasks at all. The chapter regarding this phenomenon is remarkable and provided me with a lot of insight into this that I have never come across elsewhere previously.

Ultimately, at some points this book was a difficult read and I fundamentally (personally) disagree with a few concepts here and there but Iearnt tonnes and have come to appreciate art even more. I can see why other Reviewers who work with art a lot more than I do reread this every so often for inspiration.

I think I’m ready to visit another Art Gallery again.

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