Academics and Creativity

Monday, April 4, 2011

It is time for me to tackle the double-edged sword that has been affecting me all of my college life thus far: the complicated relationship between my creative and academic minds.

I have devoted myself to academics, which is a major privilege and portion of my daily life. I am lucky enough to be able to learn about such diverse topics as medical anthropology and American literature after 1945. I get to choose based on my interests rather than a rigid course requirements list - a benefit allowed to humanities majors that I take full advantage of. Yet sometimes I get restless.
It is mostly inexplicable, like the desire to pick up materials I haven't touched in a while and put them immediately back down. "Where are you going with that?" I hear the voice in my head say, "You know you have a fifteen page paper due next week." And then I pack away whatever creative impulse I may have had in order to read more source material.
In these instances, I feel as if my academic priorities foreclose upon my creative ones. While I get a proliferation of ideas from all the new things that I'm learning, transferring those ideas into creative expression is put on hold in favor of doing the academic work necessary for that moment. On certain days, it feels like I've left half of myself in the bottom of a drawer or up on a shelf. Waiting is the most common state I am in.

But, while it seem that the marriage of my two minds is an uncomfortable one, I still believe it's a necessary union.
The beauty of putting these two together is most accessible when I am in a writing or drawing course. I get feedback on my otherwise solitary efforts and am encouraged to go ahead with more. I am allowed a space to roll out new material and talk about it. The experience breathes new life into the dusty corners of my creative brain, letting me enter again into a balmy equilibrium.
It is obviously harder to come by when I am taking completely reading courses and am lodged in books, but I value those experiences too. The writer's greatest pastime is to read, of course.

In short, I am torn about how to feel in academia as a creative person. so I am turning it over to anyone who finds themselves wanting to create in an academic setting: does academia stifle or liberate you? Do you feel like there is room for both the creative and academic states of mind? Are there ways they can combine or do you keep them totally separate? Let me know in your comments.

You may also be interested in reading my opinion piece Single Sex Education for Women and Girls.
You can also take a look at my writing.