Posts Tagged ‘courage to create’

New Poem: “Dreams”…..

March 15, 2015


watercolor, Jane Kohut-Barfels, 2009, Untitled

This is a very new poem, and one that I wrote very fast. I wanted to get down something I have been struggling with, the issue of ‘trusting the gut’ and the issue of creativity: where does it come from, and how to access/trust it.

This last fall I wrote a three part essay, posted on this blog:  “Courage to Create”.  It was about some of the fundamental issues of creativity and the roadblocks (in our lives and in society) pertaining to that issue. One of the conclusions I came to is we can be of the greatest blockage towards our  creativity by our own behavior:  ‘stroking our wounds’, refusing to do the hard work to access our creativity (which might be therapy with a therapist instead of our friends) , and also refusing to trust our gut to get us out of such situations.  We can dwell in the confusion and dismay and complain about it forever.  I know.  It took me decades to resolve some issues, but I always knew that deep inside, the possibilities of creativity was still there…through thick and thin times, through family assaults and by total strangers.

Actually, I came to the conclusion that there was a precious ‘centeredness’ that never abandoned a truly creative person, though it could go underground from long time to long time.  Although the first two parts of the essay lay the basis,  the last part, the third part gives some answers as to  my conclusions on this issue of creativity. This particular poem was a nudge towards ‘trusting your gut’ and is something I have experienced over and over. Dreams are a powerful generator of our own creativity.

Finally, it’s a simple poem, but it gave me direction in this ‘trusting yourself’.

Lady Nyo



In the outer reaches of the night

Where the thrumming of the brain

Is stilled,

The possibilities of dreams

Are sharpened, knives cutting through

The confusion, dismay of day.


In the ink of night

The solitude apart

Oh, the possibilities

A suspended reality

Brought to our minds

And here is where

Creation is born;

Not gelled in a brick-like mortar

But fragile, tender

Elusive with promise,

Seducing with such promise.


You know the dreams

Before you wake?

The songs you hear,

The verse you write

When asleep, the day

Not begun nor you stirring

From such comfort?


Hold tight to their seduction.

They announce your resurrection

Into a mystic realm

Where creativity becomes reality

And the thrumming of the brain

Is of an effortless ploy.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

“The Courage to Create”…..a short essay.

November 10, 2014

"Eagle" Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor, 2005

American Eagle, wc, Jane Kohut-Bartels…A Large painting.

The Courage to Create

This is going to be a short article on the roots of creativity as I have come to understand. It’s a first look into this issue. I can’t cover everything, but hope to expand this piece over time. This is the first section.

I have been struggling with the issue of creativity for years. Perhaps not the analytical process of creativity, until my nose was smashed into the argument by a dear therapist and a few other people. I didn’t really have a position, just was unaware of the issues behind the ‘ability’ to create.

I became more interested in this issue….what was behind our creativity, what propelled some of us to create, what stopped us and why perhaps we felt ‘strange’ or ‘unbalanced’ considering the general population. So many artists I know, in different disciplines, haven’t a clue as to ‘why’ or what is behind their own artistic endeavors, just believing in ‘chance’, or something undefinable, mystical. They also end up, as I have seen over decades, miserable, depressed, trying one creative medium after the other and sometimes abandoning all. That is generally the seat of their dissatisfaction with their lives. They give up any attempt to dig deeper and get some answers. They just hang onto the belief that they weren’t really creative.

I became interested in this for a number of reasons. I am a writer, a musician and a painter. I have been challenged by some to ‘pick’ a talent. I’ve been mocked by a narcissist, a thoroughly degenerate character who wrote that my ‘creativity’ was nothing but narcissism. Artists hear that a lot from people who would downgrade attempts at creativity. In fact, some people have become almost angry when I insist that there are no Chinese walls between these interests of different disciplines. I have recently come to believe that it takes courage to continue on in our interests: people are challenged because they want to pigeon-hole an artist. Perhaps this is human nature because labelling artists makes for a better grasp on them, and we can be kind of slippery. But overall, it is rather uncomfortable to have to feel that you need defend your talent or interests. Having to explain yourself to people who just don’t get it….the creative impulse, is exhausting. Further, it takes time and energy that should be used in creativity.

Recently I have been reading Rollo May’s “Courage to Create”. This book set me back on my heels. It is a little dated, having been written in 1975, and points to cultural issues, political issues of that era. However, the arguments about the issues of creativity are timeless.

I am going to pose some of his arguments and also some of my own conclusions. I do this because I believe the issue that is so many times pressed, that creativity is all about will-power, is wrong and limited.

If this sounds like a book report, tough. I am struggling to understand the deeper issues around creativity and Dr. May has produced one of the best books that breaks through to new territory.

Rollo May (a world distinguished psychologist) wrote lucidly about creativity. Besides being in a medical field, he was also a gifted watercolorist. Actually, he was many things and embraced for his humanistic writings by many people all over the world. In his “The Courage to Create”, May parcels out his theories of courage in six parts which I will cover in only a small way. Very crucial to this issue of courage is what he defines as not the absence of despair, fear, insecurity but the capacity to move ahead in spite of all these things. I think many creative people do this without thinking: I think we are deeply mired in these negative obstacles but we move ahead anyway, full of doubt, haltingly. We do it because of our personal, emotional involvement with creativity. It’s the issue of acknowledging courage that throws a new and confusing concept in the mix.

May made the observation that a chief characteristic of this courage was that it required a centeredness within our own being, without which we would feel ourselves to be a vacuum. The ‘emptiness’ within corresponds to an apathy without and apathy adds up, in the long run, in my belief, to cowardice.

For me apathy extends to an inability to move, to think. Just giving up on life. And creativity. I have known people forever who end up apathetic. They might be very talented, but they hit a roadblock in their pursuit of creativity and they give up. They don’t pursue because they don’t feel this centeredness. They just give up. They may have talents, but they flail around and in the end, they abandon the process.

We must base our commitment to the center of our own being, or else no commitment will be authentic. And real courage isn’t bravado or rashness.

This issue of centeredness is interesting.   It accounts for many years of feeling alien, different, out of sync with the people either you meet or know from family ties. It basically is a denial of ‘difference’ in order to feel ‘connected’ to people. I have found that it also means that I ‘dumb down’ myself just to ‘fit in’. In the end (and beginning, middle) it’s just not worth it: this behavior delays, denies any creativity that might be brewing. This behavior denies the courage to create. And that creativity is the center of self.

In humans, courage is necessary to make being and becoming possible. In nature, this isn’t exactly so, as an acorn becomes an oak by automatic growth, but a man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and the exhibited commitment to them. Our self-worth is predicated on our choices. This is a hard lesson to learn because it doesn’t come fast or easy. It’s something that comes only with an understanding of what choices lead to clarity, against choices that derail us. And it’s time consuming and something we do over and over.  It is also key to avoid the people who more than doubt, but would rather see us fail.

May describes the physical, moral, social courage and finally, what he sites as the most important courage of all….creative courage. Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which, in part…. a better society can be built.

Why is creativity so difficult? Why does it require so much courage?

George Bernard Shaw put forth something that has a profound truth to it: “Creativity provokes the jealousy of the gods”. And a creative person, IF she or he is authentic to their art, is always in some sort of turmoil. Either internally, because of doubt and fear, or externally because the gods: those in authority, or something like this, the status quo…are never accepting of something new and strange to them. I remember a gallery owner who challenged me as to whether I was a painter or manufactured sculpture. I was both, but this rather narrow woman could not accept this. My painting was fine, and my sculpture was fine, but she demanded that I choose between one medium or the other. I couldn’t and was very confused by her mentality. Now I can understand her limitations. For a while her perspective deeply affected my thoughts about my own creativity, and then I came to my senses. Who was she to limit my creativity, regardless of medium? (Her gallery closed soon after because what she carried was rather boring and stilted ‘art’.)

I faced this mentality for decades with my own mother who tried to diminish my own attempts in being creative. She was no paragon of creativity, preferring to produce ‘safe’ poetry that was pretty dull, trite stuff. Regardless of emotional ties, we need to see what boxes people attempt to stuff us into. If we are truly committed to the center of our own being (and we know what that entails) we will break free of this enforced dullness, this oppression. It leads only to a depressing state of affairs. Some people can try to enforce this dullness because they aren’t the people who create. And some are just envious of another’s creativity. My mother ‘suffers’ (or actually others suffer from her) from narcissism. And narcissists deny anything of creativity that they can’t claim…especially if it is produced by a family member. This came home to me in a real way when the last letter I received from her in 2012 stated this after the publication of my third book: “I can never be truly proud of you because you haven’t allowed me into your artistry.” Well, hell mother…had I done so, there wouldn’t BE any ‘artistry’ as you call it. But further, this statement from her, a functioning narcissist, is the leitmotiv of a true narcissist. It is always about them, regardless who holds the pen or paintbrush.

How Religion Also Screws With Creativity

In Judaism and Christianity, the second commandment states: “You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens, earth or sea”. But this commandment holds the fear that every society has about its artists, poets, writers, those that express their authentic creativity: These are the people who threaten the status quo. In Russia for generations, and in many countries today, the struggle to control speech, art, dance, writings, poetry, etc. is continuous. We see this in our own country in many ways. And we certainly see this in Muslim/ Middle East countries (and India and Pakistan) where women especially are denied access to their creativity. To do so will upset the status quo and get you in a world of trouble. And probably stoned to death.

Mythology’s Impact

Our human psychology and social evolution is also seriously impacted with mythology. The Greek myth of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus, (because he gave humankind fire) where a vulture would eat away his liver, only to have it grow again at night. Zeus was outraged, the gods were angry, and it is very common for artists to be exhausted at the end of the day, to despair of ever completing their vision, to have their ‘liver’ grow back at night, and for them to have a fresh perspective the next day. Artists strive with renewed hope and vigor in the smithy of their soul. (Funny, in my studies of the Berber culture, the liver is the seat of the soul, and the soul is destroyed if the liver destroyed.)

It is obvious to most artists that the creative artist and poet, etc. must fight the actual gods of our society- the gods of conformity, apathy, material success and exploitative power. These are the usual ‘idols’ that are worshiped by the multitude. And it is across the board regardless of culture.

The Nature of Creativity

There is no general agreed upon definition of this nature, especially amongst psychologists and the therapeutic field. Some hold that creativity is reductive: in other words, they reduce creativity to some other process. Also, it’s an expression of neurotic patterns, or “regression in the service of the ego.” This last immediately smacks of a reductive theory.

No wonder artists, creative people, have a hard time of it! When your attempts at creativity is seen as neurotic you lose confidence. You seriously doubt your sanity. And the general public isn’t at all helpful.

But there is a consideration (of which I won’t belabor here….) that when we define creativity, we must make the distinction between its pseudo forms and its authentic forms. Superficial creativity (art forms) that deals with only appearances or decoration, but not with reality is part of this collection of pseudo forms. True artists give birth to some new reality….and it is usually fought against by the multitude because of its alien-ness. Picasso was a good example of this, (and his creativity took so many forms and not all of them embraced) and it can take generations for acceptance by the status quo. And then the artist probably is dead and only the super wealthy can afford the genuine art.


The Encounter.


Dr. May is big on this issue of encounter. He states that escapist creativity is that which lacks encounter. (the reality of encountering life, etc. and it’s impact upon creativity. In escapist, exhibitionistic forms of creativity there is no real encounter, no engagement with reality).   We all know people who have great, elaborate ideas: they can talk about them forever, but they never actualize them. They are all fantasy and in the end….they lack the encounter with reality. I have found, (being a poet) that poets are some of the worst offenders of this encounter. Recently, I left a prestigious poetry and literary journal because the vast majority of poets and writers wrote abstract, academic work that had no reflection of the myriad problems of their respective countries. (unfortunately, these were all male poets.) They refused to. In fact, I was told basically ‘not to rock the boat’. How much more interesting and informative it would have been to read essays on the social issues of India, Pakistan, Africa, etc. and some solutions to the troubling issues of these countries…especially concerning the oppression of women. I have little patience with what I feel is an ingrained misogyny of many writers who just “aren’t interested” in these social issues, and consider them beneath the level of ‘true’ creativity. I put these writers and poets on the level of escapist creativity that lacks true encounter.

The Difference between Talent and Creativity.

And that brings up the question of the difference between talent and creativity. A few years ago, a woman who was a writer and artist was a house guest. She said she was writing a novel, and as she elaborated on it, I could see that she hadn’t put down a word. She was making it up as she talked. It was all fantasy, all in her head, and not in a very collected state. I shouldn’t have been surprised. As I knew her from five years on different writing sites, she had exhibited a lot of emotional issues: she couldn’t face them, but they certainly directed her life and her ‘creativity’. She refused any consideration of therapy and continued to stroke her wounds. At that time, I tolerated her behavior. Now? I avoid her. We are all responsible for the choices we make in our lives. She certainly had talent, but her creativity (the act) was truncated. She refused the encounter with reality in her own life and her creativity suffered because of it. She stuck to unicorns, dragons and flowers.

I’ve had this struggle of encounter with a therapist for a number of years. The concept of encounter also allows us to make clear the important distinction between talent and creativity. Talent might well have its neurological parts and can be studied as ‘given’ to a person. But creativity can only be seen in the act. Picasso is again a great example of this: great talent, great encounter with life and this produces great creativity. He is great because of his intensity of encounter. It is not necessarily pretty or polite, but it should be intense on a fundamental level.

This is the second part of the creative act: the intensity of the encounter. Genuine creativity is known by this force or power.

Many readers of this essay will recognize the altered state that comes when one is deeply involved in their creative process: time disappears, sound doesn’t impinge upon the project, hunger is ignored, a single mindedness becomes absolute until the creative person comes to a stopping point, either through exhaustion or something that intrudes too hard to ignore. The creative spell is broken. But it definitely is an altered state.

I have written only a few words about this intensity of encounter, but I intend to write more as I figure it out. I also want to get to what in my own life has been a propellant in my creativity. And that is that Creativity is born in the Encounter with Opposition. True creativity needs this frisson to birth or reveal itself.  At least this has been my experience.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014


“Turkey Vulture”, from “Pitcher of Moon”

April 11, 2014


Since April is Poetry Month, I will try to post a new or old poem every couple of days.  Frankly, after 4 published poetry books, I thought this January  poetry was over for me, and I would concentrate on some novel work, but this didn’t seem to happen.  The poetry, such as it is, keeps coming and like a river flowing inside, the poems keep appearing.  I don’t have any answers as to why this is, because I never started out as a poet; I thought novels, short stories was what I was destined to write.  However, I am reading Dr. Rollo May’s “The Courage to Create” and perhaps this gives some leads where creativity come from.  My belief is creativty comes from our encounter with opposition.  Courage is needed for that in some measure.

I am glad, now, about the poetry, because I find poetry to be something deep inside the psyche, something that appears unbidden mostly, and actually, in a strange way, therapeutic.  “Turkey Vulture” was written almost two years ago after a series of phone calls to a sister of a sisterinlaw. I had never met Diana, but this poem comes from her direct experience feeding strays of different species.  “Frank” was the name she called the turkey vulture.  Diana would not use these same words as Rollo May, but I think she has the essence of what he writes in her life.  She has the courage to go up against opposition on many levels and this is a good form of creativity.  I have love and respect for this woman who does not shy away from these huge birds, especially when a possum rattled my cage the other night.

Lady Nyo





I once knew a woman

Living in a scrubby trailer park

Down near the scrub pines of Florida.


She was poor as a church mouse,

half–crazed by life.

She fed all strays

-was the pariah of the neighborhood.


Every evening a flock of vultures,

Like fixed-wing aircraft,

Would skim the pines,

And land in a muddle of feathers,

Awkward birds out of their element

Land and with a group waddle

Come to the cat food offered in pans.


They were patient guests

And waited for the strays to finish.


There was decorum

Among them,

These fierce looking birds

Perhaps they knew

The charity offered

Had humbled their nature:

Or perhaps they had reformed;

I don’t know

But they had a leader named “Frank”

Who held back until the others were done.


Frank would never face you;

He sat sideways

Though I believe he peeked.

Perhaps he was ashamed

A lord of the sky

Brought down to this station,

To fill his crop with kibble

From a dented metal pan.


Come sit with me.

Extend a feather,

I promise not to stare.

Your warty red neck,

Your hang-dog countenance

Does not disturb me.


Come sit beside me,

Let our talons dig into the sand

Let the ocean cleanse our feathers

I will call you friend, brother

For the gift of trust

You have brought on your wings.



Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

From “Pitcher Of Moon




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