I was recently on a panel at a writer’s conference and the topic of creativity came up. It seemed an innocuous enough subject, but it generated a good deal of discussion and I was reminded of a talk I gave once on the importance of seeing creativity as an act of defiance. As writers and artists, we need to understand that creativity is, by its very nature, a non-passive endeavor and the implications extend beyond that. It is, therefore, important to see ourselves as subversives as well.
A well-known mystic once said that you become more divine as you become more creative, so it would seem then that good things are in store for us creative types. Most of us, however, have to live in a world that doesn’t value creativity all the time and the political environment is often one in which some might look upon artists and thinkers with suspicion and misgivings.
That creative types often face such scrutiny would seem to fly in the face of reason given that throughout history more than one great mind has proclaimed innovation the most important of all human resources, pointing out that there can be no true progress without it. And what is innovation after all, other than a form of creativity? Nonetheless we live in a country that, despite all claims to the contrary, doesn’t always value individualism, especially the more creative the individual tends to be. It’s not surprising then that the great painter Henri Matisse once said that “creativity takes courage.” Or that famed choreographer Twyla Tharp bluntly stated that “creativity is an act of defiance.”
But swimming upstream doesn’t come naturally to most of us, does it? In addition, many of us spend lots of time alone, cultivating the image of the solitary, lonely writer who must embark upon what William Somerset Maugham called the “supreme solace”. For that reason, we need to challenge ourselves to come out of isolation every now and then and make the world around us a more creative place. Be creative. Be defiant. Be subversive. And bear in mind that we are indeed artistic types and remember that this is a badge that should be worn with honor. Yes, write that children’s book, polish that screenplay and keep plugging away at that novel, poem or theatrical work. Enter writing contests and get your names in print. But it’s also important to go beyond personal and professional achievement and share our talents with local communities and the world at large. In addition to creating with our pens, we should be encouraged to get out there and create something larger, something that will engender more creativity, keeping in mind the words of Maya Angelou, who said: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Albert Einstein said: “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” This is something we as artists need to keep in mind. Share your creativity with those around you. And don’t just create: help other people create and inspire. Start a writers group at your local book store or an open mic event at that favorite coffee shop; write a play for your local historical society or film something for your local cable access channel; mentor a young writer; direct a short film and put it on youtube.com–and if you’re brave enough, stand on a busy street corner and recite your favorite poem at the top of your lungs. Whatever you do, use your talents to enhance creativity in your midst and to make the world a better place. It will be a worthwhile act of defiance.