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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


A recent study examined choir singers and amateur musicians while they were rehearsing in order to understand the effect, if any, such group activities had when compared to other communal endeavors. The conclusion was startling. Unlike any other group effort, creating music was associated with high levels of cognitive function and a unique degree of social interaction. In addition, it also seems that areas of the brain are activated which have no analog to those found in solo performances. The scientists conducting these experiments suggest that the responses they observed were hard wired and likely have existed in the human race from inception.

We have long understood that creative processes in any form are distinct from other kinds of thinking and other acts of creation. The brains of a carpenter and a sculptor engage entirely different functions in the course of their respective activities, for example. Why, of course, is the question we do not yet understand? Something about the creative process itself appears to be a key—but what precisely we cannot say.

In fact, we have only a very limited understanding of the creative process overall. Why do humans engage in such behavior? We can observe the purpose behind most human behavior quite readily, whether learned or driven by instinctual needs for sustenance, shelter, or less pragmatically a product of human emotions. Yet, while we have primitive artifacts, sculptures, cave drawings and the like that tell us early hominids possessed a creative ability we know very little about why this should be or its importance relative to all of the other life preserving or extending actions necessary to human life hundreds of thousands of years ago.

A craftsman may ply his trade skillfully to fashion as perfect an object as he is able, but an artisan goes beyond this to create something that is both intrinsically useful and shall we say decorative. Again, we ask why? Why indulge in the entirely unnecessary effort to adorn something—for that matter, why are we drawn to beauty in any form at all?

While some ornithologists suggest that birds are capable of creating original art, others argue it is a byproduct of mating socialization. We may call it art when a chimpanzee or elephant paints something under human guidance but it is at best a parlor trick and the ‘art’ is all in the beholder’s description. Artistic expression was never the intent—that is a uniquely human trait among all living beings.

I know of no other activity so removed from a utilitarian or hormonal purpose and for this reason suggest that artistic creation offers a clue to a higher power at work in human existence. Although it is a bit of a stretch for me to reason that building better shelter leads to creating monuments, palaces and cathedrals, logic fails to offer any rationale for paintings or symphonies. Why do we create the entirely superfluous but honored and coveted? It is as if there were some force or need within us –something beyond our innate humanness that inspires this activity. Indeed, I might describe it as superhuman.

If, as the study I cited suggests, certain creative acts –especially those which serve no practical purpose engage our highest cognitive abilities and a unique form of social interaction, and these appear to be hard wired into us, we must ask from where they arise. Who is the creation, and who the creator?

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