Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Creative Identity

Last night, a friend asked me what I live for. I love questions like that. I said I live for writing, relationships, and exciting ideas.

"You're a writer," he said. "And I'm a musician, and E. is an artist. Everyone else just goes along and sort of enjoys life, but they don't have identities. There aren't enough people with true identities in the world." Interesting idea.

The identities M. spoke of concern creation, usually born through processing: "I write to understand the world," "I play to empty my mind of clutter," or "I paint to escape." He speaks of people who feel deeply enough to become overwhelmed and seek creative outlet. For such people, art is like a well-executed trip to the bathroom. They become full of words, experiences, and emotions and look forward to a good, cleansing dump. After the climatic release, they ascend into an abstract, floating state of calm. Some compare it to a high, and in fact, some of the most far-out products have been created in this state. But for the artist who undergoes this process out of personal, spiritual need, the product is a delightful after-thought (sometimes drawing questions like, "Did I produce that?"). It's all about the process, the ride.

But not everyone's identity is tied to creative outlets. Some people enjoy a variety of pursuits more casually. Most prefer to stay more surface-level in their interactions with the world. How would M's definition of identity apply to these people? Would identity be based on profession or one's place in a family? Would it be based on personality or a combination of these things? How necessary is it for people to go deep within themselves and reach these glorious, cleansing epiphanies? Does it make the world a more meaningful, productive place? Do these people have added power and perspective? Are their identities truly dominated by their artistic outlet, or are all identities too complex for such simple definition?

What would the world look like if we all had to process and create?

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