CHAPTER 7 - Creativity and Asceticism: The Genius and the Saint
In the depths of every true religion and every genuine mystic there is the thirst for overcoming “the world” as a lower order of Being, for victory over “the world,” and hence we have asceticism as a way to this conquest and this victory. Without this ascetic moment—that is, the conquest of the lower nature for the sake of the higher; conquest of this world for the sake of another world—religious and mystical life is unthinkable. [Accessi means] concentration, victory over passions, the overcoming of “this world” and the vision of another world. Asceticism is one of the eternal ways of religious experience, and we cannot doubt the religious value and effectiveness of this way.
But we are faced with the question: is there some other religious way? The experience of creative ecstasy as a religious way is not revealed in the consciousness of the Church Fathers or in the consciousness of the old mystics. The creative experience, the creative ecstasy, is either denied completely by religious consciousness as “worldly” and of the passions, or else is merely admitted and permitted. At best, religious consciousness justifies creativeness; but this very religious justification of creativeness presupposes that creativeness lies outside the way of religion. Creative experience is not something secondary and hence requiring justification. Creative experience is something primary, and hence justifying.
Creative experience is spiritual, in the religious sense of the word. Creativeness is no less spiritual, no less religious, than asceticism. Creative ecstasy is a religious ecstasy. The way of the creative shaking of Man’s whole being is a religious way.
Creativeness accepts and follows the Gospel commandment not to love “the world” or the things of the world. He who creates feels himself to be not of this world. Creativeness is the overcoming of the world in the Gospel sense, but a kind of overcoming other than that of asceticism, although equal to it in value.
In the creative act, Man passes out from this world and enters another world. The creative act is not an arrangement of “this world,” but in it another world, a real cosmos, is set up. Likewise, creativeness is not an adaptation to this world, to the necessities of this world—
creativeness is transition beyond the limits of this world and the overcoming of its necessity.
The Gospel commandments “love not the world” and “overcome the world” remain valid for ever and can never be revoked. To “not love the world” means to be free and to reveal our sonship to God…. Creativeness is not only faithful to this highest commandment of freedom from “the world,” but it is also, by its very nature, a victory over that world in the name of another. It is a revelation of the meaning of the commandment “love not the world.”
The creative act is always an exit from “this world,” from this life. In its essence, creativeness is an unshackling, a bursting of chains. In the creative ecstasy, all the heaviness of the world is overcome; sin is burned away; an other, a higher nature, shines through.
The experience of overcoming the world in creativeness is qualitatively different from the ascetic experience of overcoming the world. It is not an experience of obedience, but rather an experience of daring. “The world” is burned away in the daring of creative activity just as in the act of obedience.
“The world” is not true Being. It is fallen Being, and must not be confused with the Divine Cosmos.
Creative values are not “worldly,” not “of this world.” The creative act is transcendental: it steps outside “the world.”
The Christian consciousness ascetically denies “the world” and everything worldly—in this is the eternal truth. And criticism of historic Christianity is rightly directed at its compromises and “deals” with “the world.” Historic Christianity is lacking in consistent asceticism; in its expression it is not yet sufficiently spiritual.
There is neither contradiction nor opposition between creativeness and asceticism. Creativeness does not assert what asceticism denies. The revelation of creativeness lies outside the Gospel’s denial of “the world.” Creativeness presupposes an ascetic overcoming of the world—it is positive asceticism. Creativeness presupposes impoverishment, a diminution of “the world”—and this final poverty is the way to new creativity.
The creative upsurge gives release from the heaviness of “this world” and transforms passion into another kind of Being.
Creative life is life eternal, and not life corruptible.
How powerless and pitiful is all moralizing about great creations! (Any evil that might be in an artist’s nature—even a non-believing artist) is consumed by passing through the creative ecstasy of genius. The beauty which is born in the creative act is a transition from “this world” into the cosmos, into another form of Being, and in it there can be no shadow of the evil which was in the sinful nature of the creator.
The creative act is a self-revelation, of value for itself: it knows no judge outside itself.
The spiritual life is unthinkable without the great mystery of repentance. Sin must be not only recognized but it must be consumed in the fire of repentance. Creativity cannot replace repentance. The way of repentance is inevitable, but the creative ecstasy and the creative impulse are a revolutionary birth into new life.
In the religious creative experience there is a positive rather than a negative overcoming of “the world.” The world must be conquered both ascetically and creatively. But by the ascetic way alone, solely by repentance, “the world” cannot be overcome, sin and darkness cannot be finally burned away.
In Christian saintliness there is an eternal and undying truth, but a truth which is incomplete, in which not everything has been revealed. We are facing a new consciousness of the relationship between the saint and the genius, between redemption and creativeness.
The saint creates himself, another and more perfect Being. The genius creates great works, accomplishes great deeds in the world. St. Seraphim created nothing but himself and by this alone he transfigured the world. Pushkin created great, immeasurable values for Russia and the world, but did not create himself. The creativeness of a genius is a sort of self-sacrifice.
The way of genius is another type of religious way, equal in value and equal in dignity with the way of the saint. The creativity of the genius is not “worldly” but truly “spiritual” activity.
Not all of us are called by God to be saints. Men are elected and called to the way of genius just as they are to the way of sainthood. In every truly creative genius there has been the sainthood of the creative epoch, another kind of sainthood, more sacrificial than ascetic and canonic sainthood. Genius is another kind of sainthood, but it can be recognized and canonized only in the revelation of creativeness.
Genius is the sainthood of daring rather than obedience.
The creative way of genius demands sacrifice—no less sacrifice than that demanded by the way of sainthood. On the way of the creative genius, it is just as necessary to abjure “the world,” to overcome “the world,” as on the way of the saint.
But the way of creative genius demands still another sacrifice: the sacrifice of an assured position…. He who has entered on the creative way, the way of genius, must give up the quiet havens of life, must renounce the building of his own house, the safe and assured ordering of his personality. Only he is capable of this sacrifice who in it can transcend the bounds of “the world.” The way of creative genius means casting off from all the safe coastlines. Genius is essentially tragic; it is not containable in “the world,” and not accepted by “the world.”
The creative genius never responds to the demands of “the world”—he never fulfills the world’s orders, he does not come under any of the worlds’ categories. In genius there is always something of the unsuccessful from the world’s point of view—almost uselessness for the world.
In genius there is nothing specific—it is always a universal sense of things, a universal upsurge towards another kind of Being. Genius is integral Being, universal quality; genius is always the quality of a man—not only of an artist, a savant, a thinker or a social worker.
Creativity is religious in nature, for it involves resistance to “this world” by the artist’s whole spirit. It is a universal assumption of another world and a universal impulse towards it.
Genius is holy inadaptability to “this world.” The life of a genius holds moments of ecstatic happiness, but it does not know peace and calm joy; it is always in tragic disharmony with the world around it.
The sad fate of genius is all too well known. Even those men of genius whose lives were externally fortunate, as for instance Goethe or Tolstoy, internally were often near suicide and did not know real peace of mind.
Genius is radically different from talent—it has nothing in common with talent. Talent is a differentiated gift, specific, corresponding to the demands of various forms of culture. Talent is the quality of an artist, a savant, a social worker, but not the quality of a man. Genius is the union of a nature having the quality of genius with some specific talent. Thus, an artist who is a genius combines in himself this “genial” nature with artistic talent. The nature of talent is not organic, not ontological, but functional. The nature of talent is not universal.
The nature with genius in it may burn out without having brought into the world anything of value. Talent usually produces values and is suitably esteemed. Talent is moderate and measured. Genius is always measureless. The nature of genius is always revolutionary. Talent acts in the midst of culture, with its “arts and sciences.” Genius acts in ends and beginnings and knows no bounds whatever. Talent is obedience; genius is boldness and daring. Talent is of “this world,” genius, of another.
The cult of saintliness should be complemented by the cult of creativity, for the ecstasy of creativity is no less religious than the ecstasy of sainthood. Not saintliness alone, but genius also, is a way.
The potentiality of genius, like the potentiality of holiness, lies in every image and likeness of God.
The will to genius is a courageous overcoming of “the world.” Genius is a positive revelation of the image and likeness of God in man, a revelation of man’s creative nature, a nature which is “not of this world.”
According to the old Christian consciousness (remaining entirely in the religion of redemption) saintliness is the only way to the secrets of Being. (However), to the genius of Boehme and Pushkin there were revealed things which were not revealed to the saintliness of Francis and Seraphim.
Men who are imperfect and not saints sometimes possess more knowledge and more beauty than the saints and the perfect ones. Saintliness is not the only gift of God, and is not the only way to Him.
The gifts of God are endlessly varied, the ways of God are varied, and in the house of the Father there are many mansions. There were saints who had a special gift of the mystic contemplation of divine mystery…. Other saints had the gift of beauty.
On the way of creative genius it is possible that a special new type of monasticism should arise. This way demands no less renunciation of “the world” and its goods than the way of monasticism as traditionally recognized. The life of genius is a monastic life in the world. And the virtue of creative genius is the virtue of renunciation of peaceful order in personal living.
Only the religious way of creativeness carries mystic asceticism out to the real overcoming of this world, to the setting up of “another world.”