August 9, 2014

When the World Gets Ugly, Create Beauty

Collage by S. King. Photo credits here.

"And now I see with eye serene the very pulse of the machine."
- William Wordsworth, She Was a Phantom of Delight

For the past couple of years, I have been wondering about the purpose of creativity. I've posted about it in this blog here, here and here, and in comments on other sites. Even though I claimed to have found it in that second post, I didn't really believe what I wrote there for more than a few hours.

I've been pretty pessimistic about the usefulness of creativity and how it's valued in the world today, particularly in business. I see a lot of lip-service paid to being creative when what people are really measured by is how many units of widgets they produce and how well they can squeeze more numbers into the business' bottom line. Innovation, customer satisfaction - sure, those matter, but not in the short term. And management cares most about numbers adding up in the short term.

Yet we're taught from an early age to be creative. What are we supposed to be creating?

My obsession with finding a purpose to creativity reached its nadir with this Twitter exchange. I was sitting at my desk in the office, trying desperately not to sob as I typed those responses. I finished off an entire box of kleenex. I couldn't imagine ever reaching the mental state that Hugh and Jeff shared where they were excited about the possibilities of creativity.

Then last week, I was despairing over the state of the world in general. I'm sure I wasn't alone in this. With war all over the globe, poverty and disease rampant, the world was looking pretty ugly. Equally as ugly were the attitudes of many people I saw. "Screw them, I do what I want," "Every man for himself," and perhaps ugliest of all, "Those people aren't worth helping."

What do you do when faced with a world that doesn't care how mean and ugly it is? Can anything be done?

Yes, I realized. I can do something, even if it's something small. I don't have to be ugly. I don't have to let ugliness thrive in my presence. Just like when I take the time to weed my little garden plot even though the rest of the yard is still a jungle, I can make the effort to fight entropy, even if it's in a small way.

Many people are blind to the possibilities around them. They see things as they are, and look no further. Creativity lets you see beyond what is and envision what could be. You can see the beautiful house hiding in the shabby relic. You can see the party decorations lurking in recycled trash. You can see a delicious recipe in a pile of random leftovers. You can imagine a song, a picture, a dance, a party, where none existed.

That's what creativity is good for: to create beauty in an ugly world. Creativity won't make you successful or popular or powerful, but that's OK. It will do something more important. Creativity will help make the world a more bearable place, and bring some small measure of joy to those around you.

Even if no one acknowledges your creative efforts, know this:

You are making a difference. You are making the world more beautiful.

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