Reflections: Creativity and Certainty   11 comments

Gulls and terns gather at Great Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware


“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” — Erich Fromm

Time for a little reflection, I thought.

I’m not sure why it came up today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been posting images online for a year, now. Maybe I was compelled to do some soul searching on election day before heading to the polls. A blog entry by one of my Tweeps, Robert Vander Roest, got me thinking. (Link below*)

It is a time where decisions are hard to come by, a time where nothing seems certain. Whether I consider my own creative endeavors, or decide on who should lead the country (I say “lead” with no small degree of sarcasm), the same questions apply:

– Am I capable? Are they capable?

– Can I be a creative artist? Can they be creative problem solvers?

– Should I stick with what I think I know?  Should we stick with what we think we know?

– Will people want to see what I produce?  Can we stand to see what they produce?

At two ends of a scale — like hot & cold, or pain & pleasure — lie Certainty & Creativity.  People have a need for both in varying measures, depending on your own makeup and conditioning, and which way you lean determines how you move through the world.

On the one hand (let’s call it the Right hand) lies the need or desire for certainty. Stick with what we know. In fact, “better the devil you know…”  Tradition is important. Stability is a requirement. Conviction demonstrates unchanging belief. We want to wake up in the morning and know that nothing has changed.

On the other hand (the Left hand, of course) lies the need for something new, something creative, something unknown.  Tradition holds back change. Instability is a sign of evolution. Static beliefs are seen as close-mindedness. We want to wake up in the morning and know that something new, exciting, and utterly unexpected is going to happen.

It is at the nexus of these two that a tension is to be found, and whether we consider the internal tension that arises when we decide what to do with our lives, or the tension caused between two political ideologies, or the tension between an organism and its environment, it is tension that fuels evolution. Like Yin & Yang, or male and female energies, opposites do not interfere with one another as much as they complement and enhance each other, making a complete whole from seemingly disparate parts.

Certainty without Creativity is stagnation.  Creativity without Certainty is anarchy.

What to do… what to do?

It is the hallmark of evolution that Creativity advances ahead of Certainty, but only by a very small percentage, and it moves in fits and starts. If there were no Creativity at all, we’d still be throwing rocks at each other. But, whenever Creativity gets too far ahead the curve, Certainty is there to reel it back to the middle ground. This is why evolution moves glacially slowly, and why we see a pendulum swing from one side to the other on a fairly regular basis.

Both are necessary. Both are inevitable. And neither is right or complete by itself. Every perspective holds a piece of the puzzle, and none are 100% correct, and it is only by holding both perspectives lightly that we’ll survive and thrive.

As for my personal endeavors, having had a fairly long life of Certainty, today I choose Creativity. While so much of the world admonishes me to settle down, stay stable, and be certain about my future, I’m going to tip the table over and take chances. And as for tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

To the decisions that the country will make today, I trust that we’ll see the usual ebb and flow of events, the typical swinging of the pendulum as we pass back and forth, left and right, between Certainty and Creativity.

And for evolution at large?  I trust that things are proceeding exactly as they should, for it can be no other way.

Be happy, and be creative with certainty.

Thanks for stopping by,

* Blog entry by Twitter friend, Robert Vander Roest


This image was derived from a single RAW file. In Photoshop, I applied a curves layer to brighten the scene, then invoked Bleach Bypass from NIK Color Efex Pro. Standard sharpening techniques applied. At the end, I decided to add a touch of bokeh, using Alien Skin Bokeh, to the background birds… at times like this, things need to seem a little fuzzy, I think.

11 responses to “Reflections: Creativity and Certainty

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention New post, Fixed link: "Reflections: Creativity and Certainty" on election day, on blog #photography #philosophy --

  2. nicely written my friend!!

  3. Excellent post! I have felt that tug of war my entire life swinging from Conformity to Creativity and back. With great care, I have been moving ever more into Creativity year by year and life is getting sweeter and sweeter.

    I am not sure I would use “Certainty” as the opposite of Creativity. I understand why you choose it for this post and it works. But I have had the rug pulled out from under me a couple of times to realize Certainty is a myth, a delusion, a vapor in our heads. Nothing is certain, not even tomorrow which makes today very, very sweet!

    I do not think Conformity is the opposite of Creativity though either… I will have to sit and think about it.

    Also, love that image above! Very Creative… 😉

  4. DJ —

    Thanks for the great reply and feedback on the post.

    I think that the word (pointer) we use as the opposite of ‘creativity’ is a matter of context and perspective. Sort of like the opposite of ‘love’ being ‘hate’, or ‘indifference’, depending on how you feel or how you define the words.

    Totally agree that certainty is a myth. Nothing is forever. Nothing stays the same. Everything changes. And especially in these times, when we can’t really count on anything, it makes clinging to certainty even more folly.

    Perhaps it could be rewritten to suggest that in certainty, some people TRY to hang on to what they know — what they think they’ve always known — so that they can wake up in the morning and find that the rug is still under them. Unfortunately, as you and I have found, and as people will almost certainly come to know, certainty is an impossibility.

    The impossibility of certainty, or the admission of same, makes some people very, very uncomfortable. If we could only learn to embrace and accept UNcertainty (otherwise known here as creativity), people would be a lot more chill.

    Embracing uncertainty/creativity can be difficult. It requires taking a step off the cliff, abandoning any notion of things known. I think… that’s what’s so cool about it.

    Best wishes,

  5. Wow that was deep! But as usual a thought provoking read, nicely done Rob!


  6. Thanks for the reference, Rob. I share your thoughts and your struggle. I think you are right to see both of these forces tugging at us. Probably neither one is the correct way, they are just part of the ebb and flow of life
    Having said that, I do like to encourage people to live with less certainty in their life. When you set off after goals that you never thought possible, it is amazing how they find a way to become accomplished.
    So, have fun in your adventure “today”.

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