2 min read

Why value creativity? (And a meditation on genies)

It amuses me that, at 32 years old, I regularly get the song "This little light of mine" stuck in my head, and every time I do I get a big smile on my face.*

Sometimes I suspect that the things I value are largely byproducts of the culture I grew up in. Very individualist, valuing expression and freedom. By corollary, creativity. I wonder: are there reasons to value creativity which don't rely on such cultural preconditions? After all, nearly every culture produces artwork.

Or maybe instead of reasons, are there ways to value creativity which give more allowance for cultural change? Because, despite my nostalgic affections for the byproducts of the culture of my childhood, I would rather contribute towards cultural renewal than perpetuate those values without reflection.

Consider fairy tales about genies. If I made a wish to be incredibly creative, what unintended repercussions might I be faced with? Genies as a narrative device inevitably serve to illustrate the gap between what we want and what we think we want. A wish points in a direction and the genie transports the character in that direction so quickly that they can't recalibrate during the journey. Afterwards they realize how they overshot and the story ends up being about the character leaving the place of their wish and backtracking to something more fulfilling.

So genies demonstrate the limits of self knowledge. What if I wished for a more creative world--what might I miss in my accelerated journey?

I see a world in which creative acts are like pedaling an indoor bicycle, all work and no movement. I see every person painting, playing music, writing, but alone and with no one to receive their creation. What is the point of creativity in such a world?

Perhaps the individual experience of the creative act bears intrinsic meaning. But if people aren't interacting because they're so consumed by the act of creating? It seems like a rather solipsistic meaning.

Creativity in such a world is relegated to the realm of shadows. It loses all efficacy. There's an irony in the very idea of it, to be constantly creating yet changing nothing.

Yet I don't think creativity should be saddled by such externalities or purpose. We cannot demand for creativity to take on the burden of cultural renewal if it is to be an effective vehicle for it. Creation offers newness by virtue of its freedom from such concerns, its ability to reach into a world other than this one.

Yet renewal requires creation. So whatever lofty realms we visit the genie's paradox holds if we bring nothing back. Whether that means producing artifacts or being personally changed by the experience, though, doesn't seem to matter.

*I only ever learned the first stanza to this song which turns out to be a hymn suggesting in the third stanza that Jesus grants people's inner light. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯