Creativity as a Response to Destruction Posted on 26 Jul 09:34
Have you ever heard of a blog trailer? Me neither, but I made one for this post.
Here it is:
Today's post regrettably and unfortunately begins with sad news: this morning, once again, I woke to news of a mass killing somewhere in the world.
In the wake of a recent slew of violent events, I want to talk about a positive strategy for dealing with the destructive acts of senseless people.
June 12 Orlando shooting...
July 5 Alton Sterling shooting...
July 6 Philando Castile shooting...
July 7 Dallas shooting...
July 17 Baton Rouge shooting...
July 22 Munich shooting...
July 25 Ft. Myers shooting...
July 26 Sagamihara stabbing...
When atrocities such as these happen, our first involuntary reaction is obviously emotion—sorrow, pain, sympathy, empathy. Then what? In the face of such permanent damage, it's hard to know what to do beyond that, and easy to feel immobilized and helpless. I am going to suggest however that best thing you can do as a next step in the coping/grieving process is to make something.
Yes, what I'm saying is, the best response to destruction is creation... for three reasons:
* it plays an important role in healing;
* it evokes voice; and
* it constitutes agency.
Here's what one group of artists did in response to the Orlando attack last June:
Creativity and Healing
It was an accurate statement that President Obama made in reference to the families of those killed in the Orlando mass shooting that "their grief is beyond description." Anyone who's lost a loved one knows there really are no words to justify what that feels like... When my dad died five years ago (gosh... five years already??), the only word I could come up with for how I felt was 'empty'—a word synonymous with nothingness, and yet the irony is that grief is so complicated and all-encompassing, it hardly felt like 'nothing.' Art therapy is predicated on the notion that artistic forms of expression can often communicate more deeply and make up for the limitations of language. Being able to adequately express what you're feeling is therapeutic in itself, but so is the kinaesthetic aspect of art-making. There is something eternally soothing about spreading soft paint across a canvas, feeling the rhythm of a colored pencil color something in, or squishing wet clay between your fingers... plus, the time it takes to create something from start to finish allows for a quiet opportunity to process thoughts and emotions.
Art therapy works even if you're not the artist yourself. When Paris was attacked last November, one iconic image—depicting the Eiffel tower embedded in a peace sign—went viral. This simple pictogram by artist Jean Jullien was adopted voluntarily by people around the world in the early aftermath of what happened, symbolically uniting us under one hope, one stance in the face of terrorism. The ubiquity of Jullien's drawing at that time was a comforting reminder that the greater majority of humanity was on the side of good, not evil.
Creativity and Voice
Creating something in response to a horrific event you wish never happened, as Jean Jullien did, is a way of positioning yourself politically in response to what happened. You may not be able to change what has become part of history, but you certainly have every right to voice your thoughts and feelings about what happened—and in so doing, possibly impact the future (...voice is fundamentally the only thing that ever will). Everyone who re-posted Jullien's artwork aligned themselves with a statement condemning terrorism and hate. It was a source of positive energy at a time when it was badly needed.
Furthermore, creative acts in general—whether or not they explicitly reference contempt for a heinous event—implicitly comprise a positive rebuttal to destruction. Just think about it: creativity is by definition the furthest thing from destruction. To be creative is, in spirit, to be as far removed from the evil that perpetrates that which we wish would stop.
Creativity and Agency
Violent events are a reminder that every one of us has the power to exercise free will (even crazy people, unfortunately). The fact that violent events are infuriating to those of us who aren't crazy should incite us to act on our own free will to do something about these things we find so infuriating. In other words, if you disagree with the negativity you see, then take it as a call to action to add some positivity back into the world. I love how Sir Ken Robinson (2009) once explained this idea:
"We have evolved this powerful sense of imagination. What happens in all
times of conflict and cruelty is we shut empathy off so that we can do
things that are unimaginable, and the way we avoid that is by kindling
our imaginations and making those things unimaginable in turn."
The world is a dynamic construction; what happens in it and to it is a direct result of the actions of those inhabiting it. Promoting creativity by being creative (in all its forms) is at once demoting destruction; it is a personal way of taking control of your reality to shape your corner of the world in a positive light.
"We did not come to keep the world as it is;
We came to the world in order to remake the world.
We have to change reality."
- Paulo Freire