Tension, Art, and Creativity

tension of the artist

Tension, Art, and Creativity

Tension in Creation

“Now the expression of vision, of reality, of beauty, at an artist’s hands—the creation of new life in all forms—has two factors: the living molding creative spirit, and the material in which it works. Between these two there is is inevitable a difference of tension. The material is at best inert, and merely patient of the informing idea; at worst, directly recalcitrant to it. Hence, according to the balance of these two factors, the amount of resistance offered by stuff to tool, a greater or less energy must be expended, greater or less perfection of result will be achieved. You, accepting the wide deep universe of the mystic, and the responsibilities that go with it, have by this act taken sides once for all with creative spirit.” ~Evelyn Underhill

Tension Between Worlds

While it may not seem that way, there is inevitable a great tension that exists between the lower levels of reality dominated by matter and the higher levels of spirit. It is like a tug-of-war where spirit is trying to reclaim that which was once part of it, and matter is trying to maintain its current state and bring more of spirit down to its level. This area of tension between the worlds is the place where all change occurs and is therefore the area where artists and other creative types work.

The artist sees the tension, sees the creative power of it, and tries to guide it. The great artists are those who themselves are being guided in this quest by higher forces and higher beings. Whether they call it a muse, a saint, or God Himself, this guidance is what turns a person into a truly great artist.

Tension and the Artist

When I say a great artist, I don’t mean one who has received great recognition and rewards on the material level, although such artists are not necessarily excluded. I mean those artists who are guided to try to make this world a better place through their art. What many don’t understand, including the artists themselves, is that when an artist tries to make something beautiful out of something that is ugly, or at lest plain, he is making something materialistic into something more spiritual. Since anything that is truly spiritual is completely beautiful, and movement in that direction is a movement toward the spiritual.

Of course not all artists are doing that, or even trying to do that. While some seek to bring more beauty into an ugly world, others seek to reveal the ugliness that others tend to ignore, while others actually revel in the ugliness. Those who are seeking to reveal the hidden ugliness are also promoting beauty, if in an indirect way. Those who revel in the ugly do not.

Some artists also make an effort to do as little harm to the environment as possible while creating their art, while others don’t care. I think it is safe to say that an artist to tries to create without destroying a part of nature in the process is more spiritual at heart than the ones who simply don’t care.

The Spiritual Artist

All of these artists are doing one thing: they are using that tension between the two dimensions to create. This manipulation of tension happens to different degrees in every art from poetry to sculpture. It must happen because it is that tension that creates movement and only movement can result in creating something new. When the sculptor hits the chisel, she is directing energy, or tension, into it. When the poet puts words on paper, he is directing mental energy (tension) into his work as well. The singer, painter, performance artist, and so on are all doing it, though they may not realize it. And many of them are moving us toward a more spiritual world, again without being aware of it. And the spiritual teachers and prophets are artists too. They are using that tension to “sculpt” the Golden Man from the lead one, the higher man from the lower, the spiritual adept from the malcontent materialist. That make them the greatest artists of all, at least on the human level.

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