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The Centre for Humanities Innovation

Creativity is Freedom

Maria A. Shteynman

I argue that:

  • Creative is freedom and at the same time creative is shaping of reality by means of signs (verbal, visual even tactile). Signs as units of universal code compose universal cultural matrixes by means of archetype and mythologemes. 
  • Creativity knows no border and self-restriction.
  • Everyone has right to create and to be created.
  • Being a Sub-Creator, everyone has right to create his/her own reality by all possible means.
  • Creativity opposes consumerism and ideology.

Creativity perhaps is the most effective cure for consumer society. To consider consumerism as a vice of our civilization has become a locus communis. But is it possible to oppose this kind of society? On one hand, consumer society is not just a social and cultural phenomenon – it is a strong social pattern which replaces other social institutions, such as religion or culture. Moreover, it shapes personality, giving us a false identity. The latter is based upon rizoma-like system of signs (as Jean Baudrillard told us in his “The Consumer Society”). For instance any kind of brand is an obvious simulacrum built upon our lack of identity by means of signs – not things. People actually consume not material objects but signs of desired items and goods.

On the other hand, the nature of consumer society is appropriation. Any present-day person is a conspicuous consumer, collecting visual images of non-material values. That has become possible due to various forms of possessing such categories as time (photography, anti-aged creams), sexuality (perfumes, cosmetics, fashion, clothes), success (cars, cell phones, gadgets) and so on. The whole world is possessed. There is no exception for culture as well. Its main images and concepts are used as puzzle fragments, so their main function is to evoke recognition. Recognition in its turn evokes satisfaction and self-esteem, in other words, it flatters ego of the recipient of the message (it could be easily tracked in any advertising and ideological messages). For example, the outline of well-known Neuschwanstein is copied as the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland and as a Touchstone Home Entertainment logo.

This brings us to a most important question of mass culture. It has been believed that mass culture (and mass literature) is the product of consumerism and thus should be despised. Also there was (and occasionally still is) a dichotomy “high culture” // “low culture” where the latter implies mass culture. But now it is time to renounce this duality. Abraham Moles’ theory of mosaic culture clearly proved that new media changed the whole communicative and cultural system profoundly. So elements of “high” and “low” culture can be united in the same book, film, piece of music, play…

However we still have some criteria of authenticity which can be applied to any verbal, visual or audio text. They are: sincerity, recovery, escape and consolation.

Sincerity of moral values inherent in so-called average men was brought out by G.K. Chesterton in his essays such as “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls” or “A Defence of Detective Stories”.

The concept of recovery, escape and consolation belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien and is expressed in his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories”. There he argues that creativity (he calls it “fantasy”) is a natural human activity. He also opposes creativity (“creative fantasy”) and “mere technique” which can be used in order to manipulate our perception.

So what is the mission of creativity in the world of consumer society?

The first step is to denominate and to deconstruct it. The main goal is to reveal hidden machinery of archetypes and stereotypes used to shape common identity in accordance with consumer values.

The second step is to spread creativity all over the society in all its possible diversity. That is the crucial point: the more people master creativity the higher their freedom is (especially in expressing abilities and talents), and the harder it is to manipulate them.

Moreover, this idea is also applicable to the matter of ideology. Ideology induces special discursive patterns that influence our mind. These patterns are also based on the same universal archetypes as consumer culture (“friend” // ”enemy”, “inside the borders” // ”outside the borders”, “right” // “left” and so on). Roland Barth gave us a clue of such deconstruction of ideological discourse (which he called “myth”) in his “Mythologies”. But people who are aware of different archetypes will inevitably spot them and thus defuse. One of particular features of ideology has much in common with spook: being found, disclosed and unmasked, it immediately loses all the power.

And then comes the third step: to encourage our recipients to create and thus to find recovery, escape and consolation in their sincerity in all possible ways. The third step actually is the most important one, as it gives chance to regain a clear view of the world.

According to J.R.R. Tolkien, creativity (or fantasy) helps a person to escape from a most grievous illusion – idea that our conception of the reality is identical to the reality itself. Usually our attitude to the perception of the outer world is based upon all kinds of stereotypes which sources are guilt, self-doubt, and fear – “our self-made misery”. So creativity gives us a chance to get rid of all these bounds – because to face them means to transform them and thus to master them.

Fantasy creates worlds which a person may enter and find there some recreation of grievous emotions, escape from prison of endless self-reproaching – actually find the way to her or his Inner Self.

Most powerful feature of creativity is its capacity of evoking so-called Secondary Belief that is “willing suspension of disbelief” (Tolkien). This, of course, has nothing in common with propaganda or manipulation. Secondary belief is just a significant sign that denotes our ability to enjoy our freedom expressed in creating.

While creating something outside us we actually create our attitude to it – frankly speaking we create ourselves. Moreover we do it every time when we express our dreams and ideas by all possible means.

Now it is time to discuss the means of creating. What are they – or at least what are some of them?

  • To cancel the hierarchy in literature and culture – there is no such things as “bad, low and mass-”, or “high, elite and good-” culture/literature. But what does really exist – is sincere and non-propagandist culture in opposition to false and ideology-marked one.
  • Address to most important target group – young students and young professionals.
  • To reveal universal archetypes and plots the present-day culture is based on.
  • To involve people into different kinds of creative activity in order to increase culture vitality – by organizing miscellaneous open lectures, workshops, seminars, discussion panels.
  • Stimulating experiments with genres, formats and communicative channels
  • To combine theory and practice, pure academic forms and applied arts: for example, literature and advertisement, public relations and cinematography and so on.
  • To spread the ideas of tolerance and diversity by means of universal archetypes.

About the Author

2000 (PhD) The Poetics of English allegorical fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis», Russian State University for the Humanities 
2006 – onwards Associate professor, Faculty of History, Political Science and Law, Russian State University for the Humanities