BY NATALIE ST. MARTIN
Artist, are you insightful? If I asked if you are creative, I am sure you would say yes. Our concept of art is often even defined by the word creativity. But what about insight? I propose that the artist needs not only creativity, but insight.
I am working with these two particular terms for a reason. I was prompted by a small book called, “Insight and Creativity in Christian Counseling” by Jay Adams. It is not a book about the arts; it is a call for developing skills in the discipline of practical biblical care and counseling. In this book, however, Adams defines these two terms and discusses their relationship in ways that I think would benefit the artist.
For counselors, the need for insight into people and their problems is a given; Adams has to take a bit more time to explain the counselor’s need for creativity. But for the artist, it is likely the other way around.
He starts with a careful definition: “As I use the word insight, it is a richer, fuller term than understanding, which may or may not refer to something at a level of depth. Insight includes understanding, but it is an understanding that reaches to everything essential in a situation and penetrates to every depth…the word insight refers to what is always true and complete” (Adams, 3).
Does the artist need this kind of understanding? For the counselor, someone has come to you asking for help, and you need to be able to give them something substantial and true – anything less would be potentially harmful. Adams proposes that the counselor must take time to study typical human problems, to read and learn about people in general, and then to carefully gather data about this particular person and sort through it, analyzing it to see into what is truly happening, what needs to change, and how.
Many artists want to help people, even if people are not necessarily coming to the artist with their problems in a counseling room. You want to be able to express the truth of who God is and who people are, and to work within relationships in a way that is actually loving and helpful. And you don’t just need to know details, but to know what details matter and why.
While insight takes things apart to look at everything carefully and selectively, creativity is about synthesis – taking many different parts and putting them together in new ways.
Creativity fits together things that might not at first appear related, and applies age-old truths to the particulars of a situation – in fresh ways.
But creativity without insight is problematic: what if you creatively answered a question that no one was asking? What if you fixed a problem that was merely a distraction from the real problem? What if you rearranged the elements of something that didn’t need to be made in the first place?
Many times we want to rush the process of gaining insight because we think that creativity is more fun. Artists need to immerse themselves in the kind of study and analysis that leads to insight, I believe, in order to truly enjoy and succeed in the experimentation and synthesis that leads to creativity.
Do you actually understand the problem that you want to creatively address or speak to as an artist? Do you know who you are speaking to? What are their questions, and why are they asking them? What are they facing? What input have they already received? How do they see God? How do you see God? Artist, you need insight every bit as much as creativity.
I think that artists sometimes think that creativity exists on its own – that variation is the only pattern. But the problems of people and the world remain the same, age in and age out, even though they also vary in language, appearance, and style with each culture and each individual. How can you, artist, learn about the age-old truths of God and people in order to have the insight you need to create fresh and helpful works that speak to the particular people around you?