Saraswati. Hindu goddess associated with creativity.
The words ‘think more creatively’ were uttered to me a few weeks ago and it started me thinking. Within our society, I feel like there’s an intense underpinning pressure to be creative. By this I mean original, daring, thought-provoking and, well to be quite honest, special. I feel it in many aspects of my life but most strongly when it comes to academic pursuits. Constant focus within the research arena is to look for new solutions or even new problems that we can create new solutions for. It’s blissful when the research is flowing. But all of us recognise that creativity cannot be forced. When it’s not there I feel like a useless fraud. I don’t feel original, I don’t feel particularly daring and I especially don’t feel special. I wonder if social expectation to contribute something highly original to the world is just too much responsibility for the mere individual. How novel does something have to be for it to be creative? Building on this, how original does it have to be before it gains social recognition? Do any of us ever feel that we are creative enough?
In some contemporary societies, notably in India, creativity is not the creation of something out of nothing. Instead, to be creative refers to a reworking of existing knowledge. Hindu principles explain creativity as cosmic energy that flows through an individual. Creativity is therefore not seen as the property of the individual and similarly there is no accompanying expectation. The consequence of such a belief is that India remains a very traditional society and although there is diversity, it is bound by the worldview in which it is situated.
I have to admit that within an academic context the idea that creativity is a flow of energy as opposed to a reflection of my body and mind’s capacity is quite comforting. Perhaps such a view has potential to mitigate the often debilitating pressure felt by so many of us to be creative and original and instead allows us to just ‘flow’ without the attached social judgement or expectation. Then again, this is perhaps just wishful thinking!
Doing a PhD is a bit like a (three year) marriage. There is a honeymoon period where you love your research with every fibre of your being, and are willing to gloss over any potential issues. It excites you, makes you nervous, and you believe in happily-ever after. Next is the nesting stage. You and your PhD are happy to spend time together. You communicate freely; it’s still organic and the habitual routine of sitting with it every day is something that you still look forward to. Over time this changes. You and your PhD begin arguing. There are things you don’t like about your PhD and things you wish you could change. You are jealous of other people’s PhDs and wish your PhD was more like theirs. The passion is now sporadic. Doubt creeps in. You question your commitment. And like any relationship reaching crisis point, a choice presents itself; you either work through your issues or decide to move on.
So guess which stage I am at. Yup, the ‘this could all end in divorce’ stage. I still love my PhD. It’s intriguing, interesting and relevant. The problem is that some days it just seems really really hard. As soon as I think I am gaining insight, new challenges emerge, my brain fights all it can to understand, and then decides it has better things to do and shuts down. Often these days are infused with frustration and end in eye leakage.
Creativity is such a complex, dynamic and mind-boggling subject to study in the contemporary world, let alone in Prehistory. Sometimes in my research I flit between concluding that everything is creative or that nothing is creative! Yet no matter how hopeless it seems, I am stubborn and the difficultly of the task at hand actually spurs me on. Clarity is restored when I remember why I wanted to be an archaeologist in the first place. What’s important to me is that I give the people of the past a voice and narrate their story with as much detail as I can ascertain. I may not be able to give definitive answers, but I can still conscientiously shed some light on prehistoric makers and keep people at the centre of my interpretations.
So my choice has been made and it’s time to renew my vows. I, Sarah Coxon, do take thee Creativity in the Bronze Age PhD to be my lawfully wedded thesis. Although hopefully not until death do us part…..