Until the age of 40, in fact, I managed to avoid anything having to do with "artsy fartsy" activities. Travelling through Europe, I dutifully passed through all the major art museums, just to check them off my list. I wrote a few poems when I was 20, but gave that all up when I became a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Leuven. The arts just seemed far too frivolous to me when compared to the majesty of the First Science.
Then in 2001, I had my great upheaval. My entire universe seemed flat, squalid, and uninteresting. And philosophy for the first time was unable to console me. It was at that moment, when nothing else in life seemed to work for me, that the creative urge suddenly took hold of me. Together with two friends on the faculty, I had come up with an idea for a new learning community for freshmen centered around the creative experience. Our program was modeled after the innovative one at Black Mountain College, and the crazy idea we had was for the faculty to participate in the creative process along with the students. If the students had to write poetry and flash fiction, paint, and do photography, then I was determined to do exactly the same. If we were constantly encouraging the students to break free of their bourgeois sensibilities and "get freaky," then I was going to have to get freaky along with them.
In the process of helping students to develop their creative potentials, something amazing happened. I discovered that I enjoyed creating as much--and perhaps even more--than the students did. New sensibilities opened up to me that made my safe, static one-dimensional universe suddenly become vibrant with psychedelic possibilities. I wrote incredibly silly poems and did some weird nose art just to prove that I was still able to play--the most important thing in life, I've discovered, much to my own amazement.
The poetry I wrote and the paintings and photographs I produced would definitely not have won any awards (most of my work was fairly derivative and juvenile). But that wasn't the point of engaging in these activities. The point was to tap into the inner core of my being--that place from which the creative well-spring arises--and produce something that reflected my own inner life, as bizarre, silly, and inane as that might be. It didn't matter at all if no one appreciated what I was trying to do, because I was doing it completely and totally for myself.
This fall, yet another class of wide-eyed freshmen will be passing through our Creative Experience program. If they are anything like previous groups, they will bitch, moan, and complain about all the work they have to do for the program. In the end, however, I know that almost all of them will discover hidden artistic talents within themselves that they probably didn't even know existed. And I will be creating right alone side them...not because it's expected of me, but because I now understand that creating is what human beings must do in order to make sense of this crazy world of ours.