GORMAN: Letting artistry breathe

The first time someone mentioned the workload gap between science and humanities majors with a slight sneer and roll of the eyes, I silently revolted.

That’s not true, my freshman self thought. Everyone works hard in their classes.

By sophomore spring en route to pursuing physics as a second major, I was properly jaded.

The rumors are true. Advanced hard-science classes really are more brutal than anything else you will experience in your academic life at Yale.

But although weekly all-nighters for a half-credit PHYS 206 lab have thoroughly convinced me the workload gap is real, a jeering attitude towards those pursuing creative majors is by no means justified. Gaining a foundation to succeed in the arts takes time and effort, and excelling in them requires a completely different approach.

As a political science and physics double major who regularly takes music composition classes and likes to write, I’ve experienced a myriad of thought environments at Yale. They are as diverse as they are valuable.

The place you go in your head when you draw material from deep within your consciousness feels distinct from the process of enmeshing yourself in a text or a difficult equation. It is meditative, detached, serene.

If non-science majors appear to have it easier, it is because the professors in any discipline try to implement the learning environment most conducive to success. “Sorry, I didn’t feel inspired tonight,” is not an excuse for handing in a problem set late — a kiss of death for your grade. By contrast, deadlines don’t mean much in the world of music composition. At the end of the term (or sometimes slightly after…) you hand in a large score that you were supposedly making progress on all term. It’s brilliant.

It struck me that Yale aims to prepare each of us in our respective fields, and people who create must leave space to take in their surroundings, to see in ways most won’t.

Regardless of our area of concentration, Yale trains us to produce, problem-solve and analyze at any moment. But to truly be inspired, to create to our highest potential, requires something more than discipline.

Inspiration is unpredictable and elusive.

It takes a different kind of mental toughness to spend long hours on tangentially related trains of thought — such as when a composer listens for hours to Chopin, Ives or Nine Inch Nails without stressing about seemingly making no progress whatsoever towards producing something original. Nothing kills creativity like stress, and Ivy League universities are a hotbed for anxiety. But creators must be willing to let themselves wander, sometimes down a path that leads nowhere.

The creator works by waiting, watching and listening without knowing what will pay off until it happens — and sometimes not even then.

Inspiration might be in the way you stare out the window and watch the tiny icicles, like white flower buds foreshadowing a season still months to come, condense on the thinnest branches of the bare tree on Broadway. It’s the atmosphere. It’s the way the slight autumn breeze brings you back to a childhood soccer game. It’s the rough outlines of a room full of friends as you walk in and take them all in without focusing on a single one. It’s that rock drumbeat that becomes the rhythm of your countermelody line in measure 132.

Wasting time takes on a whole new meaning. If our creative capacity is sum of all of our experiences, who knows what we’re adding to the mix? Often the result can surprise us — that’s what makes innovation exciting.

But creativity can also be burdensome. The artist must be prepared to drop everything and write, paint or sculpt whenever inspiration strikes. A new horizon is always just around the corner.

Rather than be frustrated by the workload gap across disciplines, we should acknowledge and embrace it. Without creativity and innovation, we would not have progress. I hope creative students on campus are given room to thrive — to bring about a more beautiful tomorrow that we all can, on some level, appreciate. Our lives are enriched at every turn because somebody took the time to listen when inspiration came knocking.

So as I gear up for another painful term of quantum mechanics, I’m content to let my friends in Green Hall dream.

Zoe Gorman is a senior in Davenport College and a former sports and photography editor for the News. Contact her at zoe.gorman@yale.edu .

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