What Propels Our Insatiable Drive to Create?
My wife and I had this discussion over dinner one night. Obviously it was on a night our kids were with a babysitter-- our typical evening conversation doesn’t get much more existential than when our seven-year-old asks, “Would you rather be King Kong or Godzilla?” (For the record, I went with King Kong, for greater mobility and opposable thumbs. Our son chose Godzilla because he breathes fire.). It’s a rare treat to turn our attention to something a little deeper… what is more uniquely human than a drive to create? We love to build, improve, and perfect anything and everything we can imagine, but why?
Thousands of years ago we were driven to created things like agriculture to ensure survival. Today, very little of our creative powers are needed for survival, and yet we continue just as fervently. There is, of course, the pragmatic explanation: we create in hopes of gaining resources-- build a house, sell the house, hopefully make some money. Of course it stops there for some, but why do we continue create when 1.) there is little to no foreseeable financial reward, 2.) financial reward is far greater/easier to attain doing something else, or 3.) no financial reward is needed (people continue to create when they already have more money than they could conceivably spend).
Let me pose this question: what if you were the last person on earth? No friends, no family, no acquaintances, no hope of procreation. What would you make? Perhaps whatever systems or tools you needed to live. What if you somehow had everything you needed to survive-- comfortably. A depressing thought, to be sure, but could you derive a reason to do anything? Would you write poetry for no one to hear? Build a chair that no one would sit on? Would I make paintings that no one would ever see?
I believe when we create, what we’re ultimately after is a deep connection to other people. My argument runs slightly counter to the concept that “a true artist makes art for him/herself.” We must seek to satisfy our vision first, but the best part is when someone else reacts to the finished product, and forms their own relationship with it. I bet when Arnold Palmer designed a golf course, the best part was watching other people explore it, be challenged by it, and figure it out. I guarantee that any great chef likes cooking meals for others more than he or she likes cooking meals for themselves.
Yes, I try to make paintings that I like, of things that I am interested in, but would I make them if I knew they would never be seen by anyone. I doubt it. Painting is exhilarating to me, but the reward is another person seeing something that I made, and saying “I get it. I love it. Seeing it brings me joy/sadness/nostalgia/makes me think.” Sometimes people see things in my paintings that I only understood on a subconscious level. Truly, it is the viewer that breathes life into art. There is no greater connection to other people, no greater sense of satisfaction, and no greater thrill to me than seeing something that I made take on a life of its own through someone else’s eyes. It’s a feeling that can only be achieved by creating something.
So, why do we create? Ultimately, I think it’s a desire for inter-connectivity
-- to communicate, to serve, to be useful and helpful to others. It is what gives us purpose and makes us human... and it’s the best part of life.