Creativity and Rebellion, an Intimate Story
How much revelry is needed in creative work? How conservative are true rebels really?
It is commonplace to imagine creative people —whether they are artists, publicists, musicians or entrepreneurs— against the flow of the tendencies of their time: it is simple to discern retrospectively the significance that their points of view contributed; whether we mean Andy Warhol painting cans of soup, the Surrealists constructing poems using newspaper clippings or Elvis swinging his hips on national television.
But how rebellious are rebels really? And, how does revelry relate to creativity?
To assess this, first we must think that creativity is an impulse that leads us to produce something that doesn’t exist but whose existence we intimately need. Whether it is a webpage, a book or a song, we create because we need something that doesn’t exist to exist. This is perhaps, the first rebellion of any artist or creator: confronting the inexistence of something, against the inertia of the inexistence of things.
On a more concrete plain, the theorist and psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi believes one of the fundamental characteristics of the artist is his flexibility while assuming both the paradox and ambiguity. Echoing Walt Whitman’s famous verse: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself”, the artist is at once an extrovert and an introvert, intelligent and an ingénue, fun and disciplined, etc. These internal tensions in the creative personality generate the “struggles” that have famously tormented the artistic tradition. But beyond being an internal battle and the search for positive solutions, the artist is able to use these poles to his advantage: it is from there that the artistic flexibility to change the way he sees himself, to evolve and create, springs.
One of the pairs of contradiction stressed by Csíkszentmihályi is that the artist is on the one hand, a rebel and an iconoclast, and on the other traditional and conservative. Artists often face national and artistic traditions, and they also challenge and question the state of things within a determined field or society, however, in order to carry out this transgressing action they are required to previously have had a contract with their own culture.
Let’s analyse the role Arthur Rimbaud played within this setting. Effectively the brief but powerful work of Rimbaud revolutionised modern poetry and set the foundations on which poets would erect their work for over half a century after the publication of Une saison de enfer and Iluminations. These revolutionary books were not born from nothingness: the precocious Arthur wrote Latin verses from an early age, as well as being well acquainted with French history and being an eager reader of literature of his time. To change the world it is imperative to know it.
This is possibly one of the most interesting paradoxes pertaining to the work of an artist: the rebel, to be a rebel, needs a frame of work, a context, —an “enemy”, to phrase it differently— or in more general terms, an antagonist. This antagonistic figure can be the artistic tradition of their country of origin, their own limitations (for example, when Picasso began writing poetry during a period of artistic drought, which is marvellous, by the way), or events of their own biography, etc.
The novelist Ernest Hemingway used to say that in order to find the source of writing it was necessary to find “the wound”, that place inside of us where pain resides and when we do find it, Papa says it is necessary to “press” it. Maybe revelry can be better understood as non-conformism, not accepting any a priori condition and standing in a state of constant doubt and investigation. Nobody can be a rebel once and forever: they are always tending towards revelry, always revolutionising their own being. That is what keeps creativity alive, as a fire that never dies out.
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