There’s no divide between love and skills

First published on November 2011.

As a child, I found myself moved to tears at an exhibition of abstract art. It was an inexplicable, visceral sort of feeling that I had encountered before when walking through spiritual architecture of places of worship. I knew no words powerful enough to capture the sense of integration, fusion and the oneness of all going through me. This early experience introduced me to an intuition which linked artistic expression with a feeling within me. As I have matured, I have come to recognise my creative process as originating in the body; my mind subsequently locates, identifies and verbalises the intuition.
Intuition is a primordial order. It is close to mathematics, cell structure and, ultimately, the best aesthetics.

Genetics define the boundaries of human behavioural possibility. An individual’s genetic programming prohibits him or her from growing wings and flying. However, within the boundaries of this framework, there is infinite possibility of creative mixtures from which character and capacities will emerge.

The parts of the brain predominantly responsible for our emotional life and our memories are located within the limbic system, deep mid-brain. To modify and keep pro-social our visceral and emotional responses, we use the pre-frontal cortex – the front part of the brain situated behind the eyes. A human being’s capacity to self-regulate, soothe and be pro-social is reliant on the quality of parental love to which they have been exposed. The primary carer (usually a parent) bonds with the child, helping them narrate and regulate responses until the child develops sufficient executive function to self-manage in the absence of the carer. Once care capacities have been internalised, the child develops meaningful independence from the
carer. Learning and creativity are entirely dependent on having received enough love to be able to organise perceptions and feelings, and reproduce them in a coherent narrative. This enables skill-based functioning.

Traumatised children endure an assault on their limbic system, overcharging them with emotional energy which they are often ill-equipped to manage because lack of love has delivered a depleted executive function. It is precisely this subtly unregulated neuronal functioning, this lack of balance between prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which is preventing young people from regulating sufficiently to make good use of skill-based opportunities. Who would have thought that a lack of love could be the real reason for so many NEETs?

The same impoverishment of love can deprive us of creativity. The most complex origin of the creative process is, I believe, neither in the mind nor in a skills repertoire. It emanates from the body, delivered through a neuronal system of connections which are beyond object or word – like the abstract art of my childhood. In order to access an emotional response and then develop it to the point of perception and expression, the old executive function of the frontal lobe is needed. The parental love firstly has to enable the child to understand their body, to recognise the feeling and then to articulate the felt moment into a coherent product.

Maltreated children have been polluted by the invasion of abuse, turning them into fugitives from their own bodies. They struggle to visit feelings creatively because so much of their time is spent suppressing byproducts of the trauma.

1.5 million children a year are maltreated in the UK, with an annual cost to the economy of £77.7 billion. Currently there are just under one million NEETs. Out of the 21 wealthiest countries, we rank lowest for children’s wellbeing. Whilst international research recognises that mental health difficulties constitute 13% of disease worldwide – surpassing cancer and cardiovascular disorders – we discretely disguise the fact that we have some 1.1 million children suffering from significant emotional and mental health problems. The figures of children living with substance-abusing parents are difficult to capture officially, but it is estimated that a further 1.1 million children are enduring the chaos of parental addiction. Add to these vulnerabilities the corrosive impact of poverty and you have a catastrophe lurking beneath our ‘civil’ society.

The failure to arrive at a creative solution resides in an anti-creative operational framework. Civil society sabotages love because it does not invest sufficiently in the wellbeing of maltreated children who, as adults, go on to recycle the harm, rendering their own children disturbed. Prenatal studies demonstrate that foetal development is altered by the levels of distress to which the mother is exposed. Uninterrupted chronic childhood maltreatment is the biggest adversary against skills acquisition and creativity: lack of both money and love erodes the foundation of wellbeing.

Creativity is the by-product of a subtle dynamic. There has to be sufficient order to be able to access a rearranged order and realize the new idea. Any divide between love and skills is a foolish divide underestimating the systemic subtly within which human beings are placed. It’s hubris to think that creativity can be taught as a set of skills without the visceral source of it being genuinely acknowledged. So whilst we preoccupy ourselves with the acquisition of skills, we would do well to pay equal attention to love as a driver of it. Money is needed to meet basic needs and prevent people from resorting to savagery as a means of surviving. Only a sufficiently secure environment that supports love will allow creativity and productivity to flourish.

Creative Commons LicenceCreativity Money Love: Learning for the 21st Century by Creative & Cultural Skills is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Illustrations by Paul Davis -