Saturday, April 18, 2009

The creative act

This is Walter Sullivan, in an article on Southern writers from 1972:

The Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist – all who cling to a divine faith or embrace a transcendent vision know that the only Creator is God. Man does not create. He rearranges, he makes choices, but these arrangements and choices simply effect new uses of material that already exists. So art is a means of discovery and disclosure, an act of secondary creativity that yearns toward a revelation of Being, claritas.

Interesting quote, one which uses the usual Christian tool of ‘mystery’ to ensure that it cannot adequately be answered. The debate, as framed here, can only ever come down to whether everything that is, has been and will be is the work of a divine creator, and thus that anything man does with it is not creative, as such, but simply a re-working of the initial creation. In the end it becomes a pointless argument.

So, instead, let’s address the point: Man does not create. He rearranges. It is patent nonsense. The music of Charlie Parker is not simply a rearrangement of sound pressure to create a series of different sound waves. To think in such purely technical terms is to completely misunderstand the meaning of the word ‘create’. It entirely denies the artistic element of its definition, and this is vital, because the artistic is one of the key elements of what it is to be human. It is a convenient device used by the sky-god brigade to keep uppity man in his place: deny the very existence of an independent creativity, thus saving the tiresome effort involved in subjugating it to the will of the Almighty.

The point is, man does create. Charlie Parker created music, Picasso created paintings, Shakespeare created literature. These are all more than mere rearrangements of already existing materials. They are descriptions of what it is to be alive.

Does it matter? Well yes, in the end it does. Nietzsche demonstrated quite clearly that the process of creativity is essential to the continuation of a vital life. To abdicate creativity to God is to freeze the process of life itself. It will lead to the ‘last man’, the triumph of the mediocre, the stasis of humanity. Any civilisation which is content merely to sit back and offer praise to its great leader, without making efforts to progress, is doomed.

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