This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Creative Activity

A third way to achieve union with things outside the self is through creative work. An artist often becomes lost in his or her work. The sense of a separate and lonely self disappears during a creative act. Creative activity need not involve art or music, although those are certainly prime examples. Anything a person "gets into" can qualify as creative activity...from tuning a car to playing tennis to reading.

How can creative activity combat existential loneliness? What are some possible drawbacks to creative activity as a "solution"

Creativity as a solution to the problem of human existence is a good solution, compared to the first two. But it has some drawbacks, as Fromm pointed out. First, adult responsibilities may not leave time for creative outlets, and even high-paying jobs can become routine after a while. Second, creative activity is often solitary activity. It may be satisfying but sometimes it cuts us off from other people.

Consider this student's solution.

When we studied Fromm's The Art of Loving, I learned about creative activity as a way to achieve union with something outside the ego. Fromm said that this could occur with any creative activity such as sports, music, or painting. I never realized that when I rode horses, I was engaging in this type of union.

Whenever I am upset, in a bad mood or lonely, I go to the barn and ride for a few hours. This immediately takes my mind off all kinds of pressures. When I'm working with horses I forget everything and take pleasure in what I am doing at the moment. I feel at one with the horse, because he can't talk back or distract me. Most people like to have some kind of companionship when they are lonely, but all I need is the companionship of my horse and a quiet ride through the country. And when I return home, all my problems have vanished; I can think clearly again.

Unfortunately, there isn't a barn around here where I can go when I'm feeling down. Also, I don't ever have the time for any activities because of my workload. But when summer comes, I'll be back at the barn to relax in my own little world. [Author's files]

The student has a good "solution to the problem of existence," but her essay also illustrates two difficulties Fromm sees in the solution of creative activity. The student's creative activity is solitary, and it is something she cannot always work into her increasingly busy adult life.

Creative activity need not be solitary, and it need not be as arty or romantic as riding horses. One student wrote:

What "unity" does the weightlifter feel?

If there's one thing in this world that makes me feel good when all else fails it's lifting weights. This is about as creative as I get but I thoroughly enjoy it. The weights serve many different purposes. First of all it's an excellent way to transform my aggression. Even my mother tells me if I skip a workout I'm hard to live with. Second, the weights serve my need to better myself in some way. I think maybe it's the hard work and the hard-worked-for results. It's definitely a form of love (love for an activity). There's no better feeling than to go to the gym and work out and have someone say, "Boy, you're looking good." Third, there's a unity one forms at the gym with the other lifters. Everyone there is striving toward the same basic goals only with a few personal touches. There's a feeling everyone shares that brings the group together. To me lifting weights is my ultimate form of creative activity. [Author's files]

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