Friday, May 27, 2005
"POISONERS WITH EXQUISITE PROSE"
A fine essay at NRO on the nature of creativity and the individual artist. Why are so many great artists such jerks? What can remedy that?
posted by Mark Butterworth |
Too often, Western thinkers have seen creativity in terms of concepts like “productivity” or “originality,” veering dangerously close to a kind of hubris, arrogating to themselves the role of God, who is the only one who truly creates out of nothing.
While creativity itself may not be a virtue, then, I would argue that the truest, most unsentimental thing we can say about creativity is that it is a constant invitation to virtue, that if we step back and look for the deeper meanings of the creative urge and the lessons of the creative process, we will discover myriad opportunities to develop our inner lives, whether we are makers ourselves or are simply responding to the creativity of others.
For [Flannery] O’Connor, however, writing fiction involved more than the virtue, or habit, of disciplined effort. She believed that creating a convincing, enduring world in a story requires the author to achieve a difficult balance: between judgment and mercy, reason and mystery, nature and grace. She saw the model of perfect balance in the Incarnation of Christ, who was both human and divine, infinitely holy yet infinitely merciful. She would have agreed with J.R.R. Tolkien that the artist (or creative person in general) engages in an act of “subcreation” — not creating out of nothing, as God does, but creating a microcosm in a manner analogous to that of the Creator.
Good storytelling, she held, was grounded in metaphysical concerns. The creative writer tells us about lives where something ultimate is at stake. “Where there is no belief in the soul” and its need for salvation, she once wrote, “there is very little drama.”
The undermining of traditional Western ideas about creativity has brought about a deep cultural impoverishment. Creativity may be only an invitation to virtue — an invitation that is not always accepted — but it exists only in individual souls, souls that must struggle to observe the world, empathize with its inhabitants, and shape an artifact into a form that communicates meaning to others.