Creativity as a Response to DestructionPosted on 26 Jul 09:34
April 24, 2018 UPDATE:
Yesterday our hometown, Toronto, fell victim to a van attack that killed 10 and critically injured 15. This blog, written almost two years ago, seemed timely today. Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts. I hope they bring some comfort no matter where you are in the world.
- Rebecca Zak, PhD
Today's post regretfully and unfortunately begins with sad news: another massive attack somewhere in the world.
In the wake of these violent events, I want to talk about a positive strategy for dealing with the destructive acts of senseless people.
When atrocities such as these happen, our first involuntary reaction is obviously sorrow, pain, sympathy, empathy. Then what? It's easy to feel immobilized and helpless in the face of such permanent damage. I am going to suggest however that best thing we can do as a next step in the rehabilitation 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 in condemning destruction
Creativity and Healing
President Obama accurately said of the Pulse night club victim's families,"their grief is beyond description." Art therapy is predicated on the notion that artistic forms of expression can often 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. Moreover, 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 in November 2015, 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 reposted 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 terrorists, unfortunately). The fact that violent events are reprehensible to those of us who aren't evil should incite us to act on our own free will to do something about these things we find so deplorable. In other words, if you disagree with the negativity you see, then take it as a call to action to add some positive energy 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.
Here is a video our team at ArtResin put together to help visualize these ideas. Please ponder at will:
"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