On our Coffee & Creatives podcast, we talk a lot about the importance of community to art. Artists need other artists to spark ideas and fan the flame. The carefully crafted connection between introspection and relationships ignites the creative process.
But often, when friends and acquaintances ask me about Coffee & Creatives, and I explain that it's about creativity and art, they respond with, "Oh, well I'm not creative."
While obviously Coffee & Creatives is not for everyone (however few people that are out there that don't want to hear our coffee drenched rants about the Enneagram and Bota boxes), the self-identification of a non-creative to me is odd. Not everyone is an artist per se, but is the world separated into artists and non-artists? Into creatives and non-creatives? Left-brained and right-brained? Are we in an exclusive artists only club, and everyone else is the intellectual, practical side of our humanity? Many would say yes, but I have my doubts.
The Duality of Thomas Aquinas
Part of this bifurcation of identity can traced back to the philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who believed that while the human will was corrupted, the intellect was not (1). The moral neutrality of the mind and the warped nature of the will cascaded through the ages, giving our conception of the art world to be subjective and unstable, rather than the untainted and absolute sphere of pragmatism. But these neatly drawn lines are perhaps more muddied than aquiline moderns would have us think. The 20th century showed through its wars, revolutions, and even peace that even the most brilliant minds can be darkened and that a world without creativity, play, and art is dehumanizing.
In short, the frontier between creative lands and and that of practicality may be much more vast and populated than we assume. And perhaps neither side has the moral high ground, but rather different vantages of seeing the truth.
Journalists Brenda Ueland argues that "everybody is talented, original, and something important to say," (2). Writer and editor Lary Bloom concurs, urging that creating is merely a matter of "proper teaching and encouragement" (2).
When I think of some of my most uncreative times artistically, the creativity came boiling out in other avenues. I designed eccentric dinner parties in my literature classes, giving each student a character from Beowulf or Canterbury Tales, with themed food, costumes, and an intricate quest (all culminating in a dragon attack). I wasn't writing or playing music, but this force to shape the elements before me into something new and communicate something was there burning in my brain.
When we look at the foundations of our human identity, much of it involves creativity: our creative, recursive underlying grammar; our ability to reason and make what Aristotle calls artistic arguments; and the communities and civilizations we craft and build.
From my faith in Christ, I see all humans as created in the image of God and as image-bearers reflecting his nature. I see that God is the ultimate creator, and therefore I reflect his nature in my creativity. If we view art the way Noelle explained it in her piece "Head, Heart, and Hand," that is "A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist,” being creative isn't rebelling against part of anyone's nature: it's pulling together the disparate parts of who we are and uniting them in purpose (3). I think this looks different for everyone, and perhaps some lean into one aspect more than another, but yellow brick roads are overcome with the integration (not disintegration) of head, heart, and hands.
Creativity may not manifest in the field of art, but cultivating beauty, looking at truth from different angles in aesthetics, and grappling with Byron's "cloudless climbs and starry skies; and all that's best of dark and bright" is for everyone. Maybe it comes in the subversion of the mundane, maybe it comes in playing dinosaurs with a toddler, perhaps it submerges in a battle of the wits, or maybe it comes in flights of fancy of the sleeping mind, but a creative force sits perched in the human mind.
Corporate Nature of Art
Maybe not everyone is inspired to create art, but I think everyone does play a role in it. Art is personal, introspective, and lifted in silence; but art is also quite often communal. It's for me, now; but it's also for us now and through time (connecting us to one another from centuries past to centuries yet unseen). While not all may be a practitioner of art, some are the much needed mechanic, critic, muse, and participant.
Coffee & Creatives could not function without the technical engineering of Derek McCauley and Patrick Nichols. While both Derek and Patrick are artists in their own right, their role in our podcast is to practically make the sound quality better. They tell us to not yell into our mics, to stop fidgeting so much with our coffee and distracted from the conversations, and to not cut each other off so much. They edit sound waves and piece together our recordings into unity. They even sometimes crop out profanities. Our art would not flourish without their skillful edits.
Art is born of individuals, and of art communities, but even more so of the community as a whole. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail the following on the sequence of practical and creative roles in society:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and PoetryMathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine. (4)
As art "refracts" truth, as Makoto Fujimura writes, in binds us together and shows us our humanity, whether we claim to be creative or not.
(1) How Shall We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer
(2)The Writer Within: A Guide to Creative Nonfiction by Larry Bloom
(3) "Head, Heart, and Hand" by Noelle McManus
(4) Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, post 12 May 1780
(5) Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture by Makoto Fujimura