Creativity and sensitivity

Ran across this in a recent NY Times article on memory:

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”

In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.

This phenomenon, Dr. Carson said, is often linked to a decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Studies have found that people who suffered an injury or disease that lowered activity in that region became more interested in creative pursuits.

Pardon the disjointed thoughts here.

Pronounced sensitivity to external and internal stimulus is a hallmark of what we regard as classical creativity or “original thinking”, but which might be better called creative aestheticism. Creative aestheticism is really only one type of creativity.

How do we distinguish originality from subjective expression? Should any subjective (less comprehensible to others) expression be considered as original thinking? Schizophrenics often seem creative, yet there usually seems to be a lack of universality in their work. It is often a creativity of a most subjective type and therefore unlikely to resonate with others. The best Artists appeal to the experiences and qualities we share with each other.

Classic Creatives often seem incapable of filtering. They are highly sensitive to both internal and external phenomena. Internal phenomena being moods, thoughts, dreams, and emotions. External phenomena being anything going around them, especially anything that stimulates the senses like music, foods, visual displays, drugs, etc. This sensitivity can lend the appearance of chaos as you jump from one sensation to another, caught up in the whirlwind of feeling. The younger brain is naturally attuned to the world of the senses, which might explain why something like music seems so much more vital and important when we’re younger.

This got me thinking about the differences between my younger self and my current self.

In my experience, although I always enjoyed making things and expressing myself through drawing when I was younger, I always felt like my “creativity” was coming from somewhere not wholly positive, not fun. Not from some well-spring of big-c creativity, but from something more basic: my love / hate relationship with the world. An artist is just someone with an axe to grind. When I look back on it, I have always expressed myself because I wanted to prove something to myself that no one else (rightly so) seemed concerned with: that my experience and my life had value, that I was worth paying attention to because I had something important to say.

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