People are actively shamed, when they show their emotions openly and honestly. Other people shower them with derision and scorn. They often feel intense shame and try to deny or excuse their outward display of feelings. They are ashamed.
Society generally discourages emotions, through the application of open, cold opprobrium. Even though creative thinking (actually, any creative activity) is undoubtedly and inseparably linked with emotion, it has become an ideal to think and live without emotions. “Emotional” has become a pejorative term, synonymous with being weak, unbalanced, unsound and suspect. In short, when it comes to emotional people, they’re not to be relied upon, or left in charge.
We unquestioningly accept this behavioural gold standard, yet in accepting it, we are greatly weakened; our thinking impoverished and our experience of life flattened and muted. Even so, since emotions cannot be completely killed, they exist in spite of any efforts to intellectualise them away. As a consequence, we are served cheap and insincere sentimentality in its place, by the purveyors of popular culture. Mushy, banal movies and mawkish, clichéd songs feed millions of emotionally starved paying customers. It can be very lucrative and profitable. They get away with producing it because people hungry for feelings will accept any old inauthentic garbage.
As artists, we can do better than this, of course. We should do better. Just as a starving wretch deserves nutritious, delicious food, so too the emotionally hungry deserve nourishing, sustaining, uplifting and edifying emotionally affective art works. They should be touched deeply, rather than merely teased and taunted by ultimately unsatisfying superficial sentimentality. The quality of the emotional experience matters.
The same social disapproval applies to original thinking. As with emotions and feelings, from the very commencement of education and perpetually, thereafter, original thinking is discouraged. Pre-digested, ready-made, glib thoughts and explanations are installed in people’s minds instead. Young children, born with natural insatiable curiosity and wonderment, endowed with unconstrained imagination, want to grasp their world, both intellectually and physically. They want to know why. They seek truths, since that is the safest way to orient themselves in a strange, threatening, overwhelming world.
Adults respond by not taking children seriously. Either they are treated with open disrespect, or subtle condescension. Indeed, this is how all people who are perceived to have no power (the elderly, infirm, disabled, unwell or poor, for example) are treated.
Through this treatment, children (and the powerless) are strongly discouraged from thinking independently. Worse still, the often unintentional insincerity is even more damaging. Trust is eroded. Children learn that they cannot take anybody, even those they love and depend on most, at their word or at face value. They begin to see the masks people put on when interacting with them. The insincerity consists, in part, of a fictitious misrepresentation of the world, which is of no use to a child seeking understanding and factual certainties, to provide security and psychological comfort. It’s all rather unsettling and disorienting.
Adults also blatantly lie to children, to conceal facts that, for various personal reasons, they don’t want the children to know. Whether through shame or simply not wishing to confront uncomfortable subjects, fits of temper are rationalised away as justified dissatisfaction with the child’s behaviour. Their parent’s sexual activities and quarrels are hidden. The child is “not supposed to know” and his or her innocent inquiries meet with polite or hostile discouragement. They’re frozen out from their own actuality and observations, taught to distrust what they perceive. Reality is distorted and their thoughts and feelings thereby devalued. It’s a form of psychological sabotage.
Spontaneity, while rare in our culture, hasn’t yet quite become extinct. Everybody knows somebody who is, or has been, spontaneous – whose thoughts, feelings and actions were an unselfconscious, pure expression of their essential humanity and individuality. They stand out because they contrast markedly with people conditioned and resigned to just exist and to live their lives as obedient automatons, content to do as they are told, to meet other people’s expectations of them. These outstanding individuals, despised by those who lack the courage to live their lives with equivalent spontaneity, are mostly known to us as artists.
In fact, an individual who can express himself spontaneously is a pretty good working definition of an artist. Using this definition, all manner of creative people, philosophers and scientists can be classified as artists too. There are other people who, though lacking the ability (or perhaps the training, or application) to express themselves in a tangible medium, like an artist does, nevertheless possess the same quality of spontaneity.
The status of an artist is precarious and vulnerable, though, because only successful artists are respected for their individuality or spontaneity. If an artist fails to sell the art they make, they’re regarded by their contemporaries as neurotic, quixotic cranks. Their failure to find a paying market is taken as proof of their intellectual incompetence. In this respect, the artist is in a similar position to that of the revolutionary, throughout history. A successful revolutionary is a revered statesman, while an unsuccessful one is a criminal terrorist.
What you notice about your own moments of spontaneity is that they invariably coincide precisely with moments of genuine happiness. Whether you experience a spontaneous reaction to a beautiful landscape, the sudden realisation of some deep truth resulting from your thinking, an innovative idea that occurs to you, seeing the solution to a seemingly intractable puzzle, experiencing a sensuous pleasure, or feeling the welling up of love for another person, these ephemeral moments are the most memorable and the ones that give us the most joy. In these moments, we instinctually know what a spontaneous act is. We gain an inkling of what human life could be, if only these spontaneous experiences were not such rare, fleeting and uncultivated occurrences. We form a vision of tangible bliss.
Commonly, we think that art must challenge our ideas and shake us, or shock us, out of our complacent ways of thinking and perceiving. The greater need, arguably, is to have our existing good ideas given greater power and prominence in our lives. If art succeeds in creating spontaneous moments, or gives rise to original, individual thought, or helps somebody feel deeply and genuinely, then it will have fulfilled a noble and worthwhile purpose.
As artists, we must be prepared to express authentic emotions, through our art. Our spontaneity should be the inspiration for others to live spontaneously too.