Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Creative Nonconformity

I found this quote from choreographer Twyla Tharp to be so telling:

"Creativity is an act of defiance."

Wow!  Who would  have thought that creativity was subversive?  Well, I think Chris Hedges has mentioned that (although he may see it in a slightly different context from Twyla Tharp).  I viewed his recent appearances on BookTV and on Tavis Smiley (both discussing his latest book, The Wages of Rebellion).   I think it was during the BookTV appearance he said something to the effect that totalitarian states "go after the artists..."; maybe it was Noam Chomsky who said something similar.  Anyway, BookTV transcripts are pretty bad so I wasn't able to find what I was looking for but I did find this from a Chris Hedges article:

"The resistance needs a vibrant cultural component. It was the spirituals that nourished the souls of African-Americans during the nightmare of slavery. It was the blues that spoke to the reality of black people during the era of Jim Crow. It was the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca that sustained the republicans fighting the fascists in Spain. Music, dance, drama, art, song, painting were the fire and drive of resistance movements." 

I did also find that the urge to censor or repress art has roots that go back - way back.  For example, it seems as though good ol' Plato advocated censoring art:
‘Then the first thing will be to establish censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad.’  (The Republic, Section 377b)   and:

'Is it, then, only the poets that we must supervise and compel to embody in their poems the semblance of the good character or else not write poetry among us, or must we keep watch over the other craftsmen, and forbid them to represent the evil disposition, the licentious, the illiberal, the graceless, either in the likeness of living creatures or in buildings or in any other product of their art, on penalty, if unable to obey, of being forbidden to practise their art among us...'  (The Republic, Section 401b)

That last snippet was pretty harsh, wasn't it?  Many online commentaries suggest Plato saw the arts as potentially 'dangerous' ----  no wonder so many states seem to want to control them.  I found a great essay exploring the idea of the arts as dangerous.

Yet in the face of censorship and repression, art and artists still often find ways to thrive, as notes Guillermo Cabrera Infante: "I know that many writers have had to write under censorship and yet produced good novels; for instance, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote under Catholic censorship."

I also found this great snippet from The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu:  "Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains."  What a wonderful statement of artistic resilience!

My feeling is that we've always needed the arts, and now is certainly not an exception.  I may be a STEM'er, but I love music, poetry (I'd better as I write it!), art...  And there's no reason we can't have arts as well other disciplines.  After all, wasn't Lewis Carroll, a fine poet and author, also a math teacher?  The arts have been proven to be wonderful ways to reach and engage students, so as an educator (retired), I feel we must continue to support arts education.

I think it's also very valid to tie in the arts with resistance.  In addition to Rev. Hedges' examples, I would ask where would the Sixties have been without protest music?  To me, the key thing about the arts (and maybe this is why being creative may be an act of defiance as Ms. Tharp postulates) is that they connect us to our essential human nature.  Creative works can show us that we are more than objects to be subjected to continual sales pitches, more than commodities whose data and personal information are for surveilling or for sale.  Maybe creativity is indeed a form of resistance. 

So to all readers: unlocking your creativity can be more than just expressing yourself - it can be an act of defiance and resistance in the face of dehumanizing forces.

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