To create is to be human
How artistic expression and appreciation is a human need, to nurture both individuals and communities - and means we are all creative.
When I first watched Dead Poet's Society back in 1989 as a teenager, most of the wisdom of Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, was totally lost on me. But following the tragic death of the actor in August 2014, social media was awash with genuinely inspiring quotations from the man himself as well as from his best-known performances. One in particular from the fictional English teacher resonated with me, now an adult with both a little more life experience and a professional & personal interest in creativity.
"We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."
I love this distinction between sustaining life and giving it purpose; the difference between surviving and living. Of course, you need one to achieve the other. But the latter is surely the end goal.
The root of the word 'inspire' is from the Latin, meaning 'breathe or blow into'. It was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense of ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’. This suggest there is a spiritual basis to our creativity, echoed in many of the creation stories from the major religions. Creativity, it would seem, serves a higher purpose.
At a recent workshop building strategies for quiz show development I encouraged teams to think about play and why it is in our nature as humans (and indeed, animals) to play. I asked the group what they imagined the world would be like without play. In the end, every conversation reached the same conclusion: we would die.
Without the desire to create and the pleasure we find in it, we would simply cease to exist. Not only would we have failed to innovate and develop the technology, machinery and industry which allow us to all live on this planet - and attempt to override the harm we do it and ourselves along the way - we would all be emotionally damaged. As Stuart Brown, an American psychiatrist, clinical researcher and pioneer in research on play says: "the opposite of play isn’t work, it is depression". Ultimately, without being creative we would probably annihilate each other through a lack of empathy, self-awareness and practice at effective social living which play develops in us.
In 1966, Charles Whitner became known as the Texas Tower Murderer, after he killed 16 people and wounded 32 others in a shooting spree at the University of Texas, Austin. A panel of experts at his trial found that severe play deprivation, absence of play and suppression of developmentally normal play directly led him to be more vulnerable to the tragedy he perpetrated.
This, of course, is an extreme example of an absence of creativity in a person's life. Back in our day-to-day lives and on a more positive note, we only have to look at the fields of brain injury rehabilitation or mental illness therapy to see how the presence of creativity can heal. And then just look at your average play group or nursery class, and you just can't argue that creativity is an instinct within us all. It is what gives us purpose and makes us human. And we can all do it; there is no such thing as someone who is not creative.
So, let's crack open the watercolours, dust off the journal or have a sneaky go at the kids' felt tips and colouring books. Let's do something we've never done before, let's look at something differently, or answer a problem in a new way. Let's dance like no one is watching, love like we've never been hurt, and create like nobody's judging. And let's just do it for the sake of it, for the sheer pleasure of trying, even if we're not completely happy with the final outcome. Or, failing that, maybe it's time to stop and appreciate the creativity of others - from photography to animation, to literature or the performing arts.
Let's be human. Let's create and let’s appreciate the creativity of others.
(c) Ally Castle