Ben tells me he needs “permission” for creativity because it’s indulgent. He says that it needs to have a purpose and he feels unable to create for its own sake. I feel immediately sad about what Ben is telling me.
Growing up with a father who didn’t value art in any of its forms Ben has developed the idea that he only matters if he’s doing something which has a measurable value. This is his fathers truth and it has lain across Ben heavily.
My own father did nothing musical of his own, but preferred to gaze in wonder at the work of others. My mother could play the piano and draw sublimely well but rarely did either. Neither of them ever showed much interest in my own artistic meanderings and so it was easy to draw assumptive but inaccurate conclusions about its relative importance.
We are so focused on the need for external purpose that the idea of making something because it feels helpful to us emotionally is so easy to bypass. If we are only able to create something which has meaning to others but nothing to ourselves it becomes functional and emotionally dead. It’s hard to sustain an existence like this.
As my discussion with Ben goes on he reveals that the darkest parts of him, the feelings of shame and failure, of weakness and vulnerability, are what he draws on to give his writing power. Without them he feels he would be artistically impotent. I am in the heart of transference, hearing Ben’s words and feeling what it would have been like if I’d had no musical release, no writing to exorcise my darkest and most painful emotions. If I couldn’t have lost myself in art when I could find myself nowhere else. I clarify with Ben.
“So, creativity is a way of using what would otherwise be destructive parts of you to make something positive?”
It’s not a great leap from here to the realisation that creativity is far from an indulgence.
When we think about creativity as a product with a defined value, as something which must be consumed, we are missing something fundamental about its very existence. Art is at its best when it is created for the artist. None of us need permission, nobody needs to buy it or even approve of it and, in that sense, it’s not a luxury it’s an absolute necessity.