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  • Writer's pictureChristine Skolnik

Notes on Creative Ecology: I

In contemporary Western contexts we generally think of intuition, the imagination, and creativity in general as means to a more or less practical end. This end could be a work of art or a marvelous new invention—new technology for example. Steve Jobs is a kind of icon of late twentieth-century creativity. Alternately, we could think of creative work as a means of connecting with our intuition and imagination (as a goal of creative labor). The value of intuition and imagination, furthermore, could be seen as means of connecting with the non-human.

Certainly, art has long been a means of connecting with the divine. This is a commonplace in art history and the history of religions. When we replace the category of the divine with the general category of the non-human, however, the purview and power of art is greatly expanded. Here’s a working hypothesis: creating works of art, perhaps creativity in general, is a way to connect with our imagination and intuition, as a means of developing our capacity to connect with non-human beings.

The non-human category can include the divine, of course, as well as demigods, angels (and demons), and a variety of non-human agents including fairies and elves. This may sound childish in a twenty-first century North American context, but I am thinking out of a folk cultural context – for example the folk culture that influenced Romantic Eastern European literature (to which I was regularly exposed in my home culture). Whether or not we believe in mythical creatures, one might argue, they have an archetypal influence. [1]

The category of the non-human can also include visitors from other worlds, a.k.a. aliens, or future humans. In a folk context it includes our ancestors. In general, the longing to connect with the non-human may be parallel to the longing to connect with the divine. Human beings may reach out or be open to more than human life because of dissatisfaction with humanity and/or a sustained felt-sense that there are non-human “persons” of interest in the universe.

The non-human category also, significantly, includes non-human animals and plants on earth, as well as inanimate matter. And these can also be understood as persons, in a sense. Turning again to folk literature, animals and plants can be the subjects or heroes of their own stories; one might say their spiritual being is narrativized. Indigenous cultures also clearly extend a kind of personhood to inanimate “natural” features and forces such as mountains, bodies of water, and the wind.

When we recognize the deeper value of non-human creatures in our environment, we recognize ourselves in a very different way. Extending our ethical purview, extending love and respect to all of creation (dare I say), may radically change our relationship with ourselves. Rather than treating others with respect because we see ourselves in them, because we recognize our surface features in them (as if we were looking into a mirror), we can recognize something deeper in ourselves by perceiving non-human others as creatures endowed with an ethical sovereignty. Nonhuman animals and plants become persons rather than resources, subjects rather than objects.

When we can look at the tree and see ourselves reflected in it, we are looking through the looking glass, in a sense. However, most importantly, we can recognize our deeper nature as a part of an interdependent ecology. This is most important not because the individual human being is most important, but because this recognition renders everything most important.

[1] This is clearly a Jungian idea, though I would also like to resist the Jungian tendency to collapse all archetypes into an overarching paradigm of the human self.

Image source: Coyote from 9 Mile Canyon, courtesy of Layne Miller at

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