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Emotion and Creativity: Is There a Link?

Ever wonder what it feels like to dance down the street or wave at people you don’t know? Ask a kid. Kids do those things. Suddenly though, they reach an age when it is no longer cool, and they stop playing. Sure, they play video games, but that’s not the same. Maybe we should all continue to play – if only for the sake of reaching into our creativity.

In her book, My Stroke of Insight, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor writes that due to the way the brain works, we are feeling beings before we are thinking beings. Perhaps the ability to express emotion plays an important role in creativy, the unlocking of the thought process. It’s as though by expressing emotion, the cognitive process is sharpened, thereby allowing innate talent to blossom.

Friends of the late Steve Jobs say he was an extremely emotional man. He was also creative to the extreme. It’s like he never stopped playing with Legos, all the while building a computer empire.

I heard Jack Black interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air this week. I think he’s one of those people who just pushes the outside of the creative envelope. The multi-talented actor-comedian revealed a reflective side of his personality, saying people see him as the funny man to such a degree that they don’t take his rock music seriously. I had no idea he wrote rock music.

I think of Paul Simon, whose clever song lyrics seem almost stream of consciousness at times and drum up imagery one flash after another.

I recently read that extremely creative people have often experienced trauma of some kind in their youth. The trauma, it said, opens a of “window” of awareness and the ability to access creativity. Perhaps this is true. Many of the artists whose work I admire seem to have had childhood experiences that no one would envy.

Harry Nilsson comes to mind. Probably the most prolific American songwriter ever, Nilsson had been abandoned by his family and left to live with an uncle during his early teens. Deeply emotional, Nilsson never stopped believing in his musical ability; and after making his way to California, was immediately “discovered.”

And Edith Piaf, the French singer. She had been orhaned and grew up impoverished, singing in the street. Her emotional renditions of songs like “La Vie En Rose” captured the hearts of her country.

Carol Burnett is another ultra-talented individual whose childhood was emotionally very difficult. Her parents were both alcoholics. Taken in by her grandmother, Burnett’s home was a boarding house in a poor neighborhood. It was while taking an acting class at UCLA that she found her talent for comedy – and comfort in the laughter of an audience.

The point isn’t that all creative people must have tortured pasts; but that the window to the creative soul may be somehow connected to the ability to key into emotion. Helping children express their emotions is a start. When we offer empathy to children, they can tell us how they feel, unlocking their frustration, upset or trauma – even small ones.  How does a parent do that? In his book How to Really Love Your Child, by psychologist Ross Campbell, it takes three simple things: listening, eye contact, and  focused attention. I’ve practiced this approach for years, and it works. The child’s emotions come pouring out. Imagine the healing that is taking place – and the space in the brain that is freed for the creative process, rather that worry and anger.

When I watched this video mix of scenes from Charlie Chaplin movies, I thought that he must have been one of those people. His comedy seems to come from a place deeply rooted in emotion.

Set to the song, Smile, composed by Charlie Chaplin and exquisitly sung by the legendary Michael Jackson, the video is a testimony to creativity and guaranteed to dry the eyes of even the saddest little urchin. FFG

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu-rLA4POkI

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