One of the things I’ve been thinking about is why we create. It’s not like eating or sleeping or even hunting, gathering or procreating – all essential to our survival. It’s not like working, which is just the equivalent in modern life to the subsistent activities of our distant ancestors.
Nor does everyone seem to be equally creative. Some people seem to have little or no creative life at all.
But for people who really are creative it’s almost a compulsion. To be is to create, to create is to be.
I suspect the motivations are many and that creative people are often driven by more than one thing. For some it may be fame or adulation, for others money. I wondered whether it might be an attempt to cheat death by leaving part of oneself behind as a sort of immortality by proxy; a body of work that’s remembered and celebrated.
I was in Paris with a friend last weekend and we spent a while walking around the Père Lachaise cemetery. It the last resting place of a whole host of writers and artists, musicians and thinkers. The list is impressive; Balzac, Beaumarchais, Isadora Duncan, Chopin, Max Ernst and Stephan Grapelli… and I’ve only gotten up to G. We went there to see Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, tombs so popular that they have to be protected from the public.
Another that caught my eye was that of Théodore Géricault. I have to confess I didn’t know who Géricault was. It seems he was a pioneer of the romantic movement in painting but died young. He was celebrated during his lifetime and got a magnificent monument over his grave but not the immortality he perhaps craved.
Van Gogh on the other hand died unknown and barely recognised as an artist and is buried in Auvers-sur-Oise in a small grave, his brother later being laid to rest alongside him. When he died in 1890 Van Gogh’s reputation was barely being born. More than a century later he’s an icon; reproductions of his paintings are ubiquitous.
The idea that creativity is about immortality is seductive. It may actually be the motive for some, just as fame, wealth and sex drive the creativity of others.
But I think we may overlook the possibility that for many creative people creativity is its own reward. The fruits of their labour may never be seen by others. They just have to create. I won’t liken it to breathing but I might liken it to sex; something fundamentally life affirming, something that makes one feel ‘I am here. I exist’.
I’ve always enjoyed the company of creative people but the ones I’ve related to most are those that create because they must, because not to create is to cease to be.
When I got back from Paris I started to write. I went back to a novel I’ve been thinking about for five or six years, of which I’d written the first eight thousand words. Last week I wrote almost six thousand in less than five days.
It’s so easy to let relationships become entanglements, to make compromises, to live a life that’s not one’s own, to give into the disapproval or lack of interest of others.
I think in many ways I’d become detached from myself and Paris was the beginnings of a reconnection with a me I liked and that I missed. It was the best time I’ve had in a long time.
It’s good to be reminded of the almost limitless possibilities out there. It’s good to be alive. Perhaps that’s why I don’t find cemeteries gloomy places.
We only have one life to live. Our real fear should not be losing it but not living it in the first place.