It’s a strange thing. Today, we have advanced incredibly in the past few thousand years. Our technology allowed us to conquer the entire world time and time again, using brilliant human creations to defeat one another in war, trade and even politics. There seems to be no limits to our genius, and we harness that useful, functional ability to achieve incredible things.
But what about art? Music? Theater? The projects we artists devote our lives to between work and sleep don’t fit this mercilessly practical nature that’s jumped us to the top of the food chain. How can a people so practically-minded devote hours, days or even lifetimes to the creation of something…”useless”?
Storytelling is older than any human language, and it remains an integral part of almost every social interaction we have today. Passing down knowledge, teaching history and trading anecdotes are a large part of how we socialize and have been for thousands of years. Vikings would spin tales of previously won battles to bolster spirits, and ancient merchants would craft wonderful stories to increase their prices.
But we’ve been using art, song, poetry, and drama to tell stories for about as long. Not everyone is a majestic wordsmith and orator, and often we create in order to spread histories, messages, and tales which we can’t quite put into words. Narrative art is an obvious example, but all forms of expression can be used to tell a good story.
Beauty, Happiness, and Sadness
Watching something beautiful — whether it’s a partner, a puppy or a glowing sunset — always strikes an emotional chord within us. Like fine wine, it can make us feel something approaching euphoria and it’s only natural that we’d try to replicate that in our lives.
But this desire to recreate emotional reactions isn’t limited to beauty; we dedicate ourselves to creating fun, sadness, despair, jealousy — the most stunning piece of art or heartrending piece of music often exists just for that simple, subtle purpose of being a proxy of human emotion.
And it’s not just about ourselves, either. Comedians don’t spend years writing a show just to pass the time; they do it to bring laughter to the hearts of everyone who come to their show. The same goes for musicians, craftsmen, writers, and creatives of every kind — it connects us with others.
We like doing stuff that make us feel good. Climbing the stairs at work or eating a whole pizza in one sitting — if your only motivation is to make yourself feel happy or fulfilled, then it’s a pretty good one.
The same is true for making things. There’s a strong (yet albeit untrue) stereotype that artists never make a penny, living near the streets in hand-me-down rags and eating dust bunnies; if the creative lifestyle is so financially unprofitable, then why do we all pursue it? The answer is that the satisfaction of making something with your own hands, brain and equipment offers you something more than cash.
But it’s not just the end result that pleases us. Hemingway reputedly said “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” and that’s what we see with our creative hobbies and distractions. You can forget about the stress of work or how annoying your WiFi connection is, and immerse yourself in something greater.
Creation transports us to a new world for just a little while, and perhaps that’s a good enough reason.
What about you? Why do you think that we, humans, create?