Creative expression Or, The paradox of catharsis

When I think of the term ‘creative expression’, I think of vivid colours, beautiful objects, putting words together in strange, new ways, exploring the potentialities of a musical instrument, reimaginings of the mundane, and other whimsical, non-utilitarian stuff all brought about by… inspiration, I suppose.

The term makes me think of other ideas like chaos, disorder, elusivity and ethereality. It makes me think of undefinied and undefinable processes; of unidentified and unidentifiable methods; of that ‘certain something’ that can’t be taught but can be developed, we are told, if only we look inside ourselves, or ask the universe, or summon Mephistopheles – I can’t remember which.

Well, that’s what I think. Now, here’s what I know.

 ‘Creative expression’ is spending endless hours seemingly doing nothing, frustrated, hoping, despairing, alone more often than not, reiterating an idea that, for all I know, may have been caused simply by an anomaly in the brain.

Creative expression is, I have learned, nothing but the persistence to get something right. Because coming up with an idea is easy – just imagine a flying pig – there you go, not too hard. Now write a story worth telling about that pig; write a song about it, paint it in such a way that passers-by in a gallery are compelled to stop and look at it; make a life-size sculpture of it in white marble – but it has to look like it’s flying – not just a heavy pig with wings on it – a flying pig that makes you forget it’s made of stone and takes you with it on its flight of fancy.

The great actor, Sir Laurence Olivier, once said that a stage actor should never enjoy himself. (I’m sure he meant to include women in that statement.) He said the audience should be the ones enjoying themselves. And rightly so – they’ve paid for a ticket, after all! Olivier’s claim is consistent with the old theatre adage: If you cry, they won’t; if you laugh, they won’t. If the audience sees an actor truly enjoying him/herself, they will resent it. If the audience sees an actor truly upset – truly crying, for example, they will also resent it. They might feel sorry for the actor but they will resent having the illusion of character broken by an actor who suddenly starts showing his, or her, own character. The audience wants to see Hamlet – not the actor, playing Hamlet – in despair.

RainbowSo why am I saying all this? It’s because paradoxically, ‘creative expression’ is not about you – it’s about them – your ‘audience’ – the people you affect. Creative expression occurs when another person has had a cathartic experience because of something you’ve conceived. Anyone can create a flying pig in some shape, or form, but the truly creative person creates a flying pig that carries with it the potential to induce paroxysms of laughter, or to reduce someone to tears.

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