Over the weekend, I visited Natural Bridge State Park in Massachusetts with my Sister & her family. The park features a naturally-made white marble arch “bridge” and a man-made white marble dam. Seeing these two features near one another struck me as such a great picture of the amazing inspirations humans take from the creativity that’s already visible in nature. As a person of faith, I see “natural creativity” as the creativity of a Creator, and even those who don’t recognize a Creator seem willing to concur that natural beauty is often a direct boost for individual creativity . . .
In one study from the University of Kansas, researchers concluded that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after being steeped in nature for just a few days, and yet we’re so often reluctant to really disconnect and spend that amount of time, even a long weekend, removed from the high-voltage stimuli of devices and modern entertainment.
Artists in a variety of mediums have taken inspiration from nature over the years, expressing this inspiration through their paintbrushes, pens, and musical instruments. The acclaimed writer Edgar Allen Poe once wrote the following words capturing this sense that artists are merely translators of what is already perceptible in the natural world:
Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term art, I should call it the Reproduction of what the senses perceive in nature through the veil of the mist.
And the Sculptor Auguste Rhodin (well-known for iconic pieces like The Thinker) echoes a similar sentiment, pushing a step further to a suggestion that nature can reveal deeper “inner truth”:
To any artist worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.
I hesitated briefly about writing this blog posting. “Is it too cliche to talk about nature and creativity?” I questioned. “Will people simply roll their eyes and say, ‘We know already. We know!'”? Maybe! But I’m posting this anyway because I’m convinced that even though the vast majority of us know about the creative benefits of tuning in to nature (for our physical, emotional, and spiritual health) many of us simply do not make time for it on a regular basis.
Many workers in schools, factories, and offices go from morning to night without ever stepping outside. Many students are ushered from class to class to evening extra-curricular activities to homework to bed without ever breathing fresh air or looking at the sky.
In his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv suggests that we’re suffering from a collective “Nature Deficit Disorder” that causes a range of behavioral problems, and Dr. Elizabeth Dickinson, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has provided additional thoughtful analysis of Louv’s proposition. The two don’t fully agree in their conclusions but both acknowledge a disruption in the relationship between humans and nature and encourage pursuing ways to re-connect.
Sometimes, we do “nature activities” with friends or family members like hiking or outdoor sports but are so consumed with conversation with them or doing something together that we don’t really observe, let alone connect with the beauty and inspiration of everything around us. That’s not to say that these types of activities are bad–of course they’re not! But when was the last time you engaged with nature for its own sake?
How do you think it would affect you if you actually gave yourself an extended stretch of time to really observe the complexities of tiny pebbles, twigs, cracks in the earth, insects, birds, and leaves or the immensity of giant boulders, vast stretches of sand, or endless hilly ridges receding along the horizon? to silently listen to the rush of water down a stream, waves on the beach, or the swish of a breeze through branches? to feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of the shade, just feel it for a while without rushing through it, being distracted by a companion, or reaching to snap a picture?
What does nature smell, sound, feel, taste, and look like to you? What do your senses conjure up when you consider this question? Do you have a vivid impression? A memory of something you’ve experienced in nature? I’d love to hear about it. If nothing comes to mind or if this thought process propels you to spend some more time immersing in nature, I hope you’ll do it . . . and then tell me about that, too.
If you haven’t already, consider following my blog to receive an e-mail each time I publish a new weekly post.
P.S. Many classical composers from Beethoven to Vivaldi are known to have derived strong inspirations from the beauty of nature. I think this piece from Claude Debussy, an outspoken lover of nature, is a beautiful echo of the natural world. If you have about 4 minutes to listen, I doubt you’ll regret it.