Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creative Humility

Why Art Doesn't Come From the Artist

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who is a musician by profession, and who has read some of my writing. In discussing the differences of our work, said friend made an interesting comment about the contrasting dynamics (ha) of how we approach our pursuits: “My work is mainly interpretive, whereas yours is entirely creative; you have to create something out of nothing.” Whether this statement was a compliment of sorts or simply an observation, there was something about it that stuck with me, and not necessarily in the right way. I think it was the word he used:


Geez, what a weird word.

It shouldn't be so strange to me. After all, I've frequently referred to my writing as “creative” work, and “create” is only a suffix away from that. Certainly, creativity is the leading element for what I do -- it takes a creative mind to arrange words and ideas into a story, to make language aesthetically pleasing and entertaining. And certainly my friend's description was accurate, in this sense: the written story, the arrangement of words, doesn't exist until I put it all together. So why does “create” bother me so much?

Maybe it’s because I've never thought of myself as (to add another suffix) a “creator.” An artist, yes, but a creator never. For a religious person like me, the term "creator" connotes a divine parent, One who forms true substance out of true nothingness. The act of creation here, then, is a godly one, since it originates solely from the will of He who creates and not from any preexisting materials. I'm sure my friend wasn't thinking as philosophically as I am about these terms, and I'm certain that comparing me to divinity is nowhere near to what he had in mind. But to think of myself as someone who "creates" seems conceited, in a way -- not to mention inaccurate.

Perhaps this is only my own, silly paradigm, but I don't see artists as creators. Inspiration, and consequently art, doesn't simply come from nowhere; it is not pure creation-out-of-nothingness. Rather, art by its nature -- by human nature -- is driven and provoked by something outside of itself. As humans living in reality -- a reality made up both of the physical world and the interior processes -- we are constantly being affected by our experiences. We didn't invent this reality, nor did we order it to influence us in certain ways. We are simply submerged in it. Where individual creativity arises is in how we react to that already-created force.

Even those abstract works, which claim to be a pure creation of will detached from representation, are still but reactions to reality -- in this case, the wish to question it. We can't escape the world or the ways it influences us; even our deepest, rawest interior life is still a part of realityArt is always, in some form or another, tied to the environment we live in -- be that a direct representation or a depiction of emotional response. In this sense, the artist is not a inventor of something new; she is an interpreter, and expresser of what she perceives.

Am I insulting artists by lowering their status from creator to interpreter? I don't think so. From my view, there could be nothing more dignifying than drawing ourselves closer to our own humanity. We artists are not so different from anyone else, I believe. We are not some elitist group bestowed with the power to reshape reality. We are human. We see the world, we feel it, and known or unknown we try to react to and express that experience (and, for some reason, the way in which artists express it gets more attention).

Clearly, tomes could be written about the subject, and I apologize for the philosophical ramble. For fear of boring you for too long, let me draw it to a close with a more personal illustration:

For my own part, I have only ever thought of myself as an "appreciator," as one who is simply in love with everything I see. A lover looks at his beloved without any claim in her creation. He doesn't attempt to reinvent, reshape, or replace her (why would he?). Instead, in his limited way, he makes desperate, passionate endeavors to simply express her -- to gesture to her beauty, to capture her essence with his lovewords. When he pours out his emotions, it is she and her influence that he lauds, not himself. He is praising, in other words, the miracle that she was created.

So it is when I write. I don't want to reinvent, escape, or question reality. All I want to do is point to the created world, and say, "Look how lovely it is." Whether you are religious or not, there must clearly be something greater driving the artist other than the artist's own wishes. And it takes a kind of humility, I think, to admit that.

No, reader, I’m not a creator. I am only a lover.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, so this is where the comment on Julia Cameron should be. I need to not comment via my Ipad late at night. It took me 3 tries and then it ended up in the wrong place.#oldpeopleproblems