Art is not the work of an individual.
It seems almost hilariously obvious to write a statement like that, but I think it is a fact that is often forgotten in the pursuit of creativity. Artists are always praised for their unique work, their individuality, and this focus on the unique and the individual has often pushed the central force behind creativity out of the frame.
All creativity stems from response. Whether this be response to personal experiences, social issues, cultural phenomena, small moments of feeling, nature or other art, all art is an act of response. All creativity is reactionary.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think your super cool idea that you spent ages thinking up is not wonderfully unique and original. Don’t confuse reaction and response with unoriginality. The ability to form a unique and original response to something that everyone else can, and likely will, react to, is an incredibly valuable skill.
However, I think that the pressure put on artists to create something wonderful whilst also living in a cultural vacuum is unnecessarily over-present in certain artistic spaces. Nothing limits creativity more than the absence of art and creative work in your immediate environment.
My friend Charlie O’Grady often tells the story of development of the idea of his play Kaleidoscope by saying that the decision to create the play was not his own doing. He was basically told by a close friend that the play should be written, and so it was. The ideas and the ways they are expressed belong to Charlie, but they are also reactionary. They are a response not only to the absence of a particular voice in the creative community that he believed (and has indeed) begun to fill, but also a response to that moment when he was told he had this play in him somewhere.
I am a big fan of these types of response. The response to being told you have the potential to react in exceptional, creative and moving ways and create art from those reactions. Some of my best moments of creativity have come from moments where my dearest friends have told me I can do something amazing. Some of the best art I have experienced has been a work of imaginative collaboration. Nothing is more beautiful than being in the middle of a discussion of creative ideas and finding the little spark in that conversation that makes you want to create.
I often find that when I find myself caught between ideas, especially as I move between artistic crafts, I need to draw on things around me for inspiration. Each craft relies on responses to different things. Poetry relies on large emotions in small moments, novels rely on reaction to specific events, themes and social issues. Pieces like this rely on specific understandings of cultural phenomena.
Everything is a reaction to another reactionary response. Nothing can be pulled apart without finding strings linking it to something else entirely.
What I find most striking however is how interdependent art is on other art.
I use ‘art’ here of course to refer to all forms of expressing creativity, either formalised or (better yet) not formalised at all. I often find that my reaction to all forms of art often begins with awe and fascination and then quickly turns to a desire to create. Whether it is to write a review or a poem about how that art made me feel or even if it inspires just a single line in the novel I am writing at the time, I can’t help but feel the influence of all the art and creative work I have ever experienced in my own work.
So, imagine all the little things that inspired the particular piece of creative work that inspired me, and all the possible creative works that might be influenced by something I create. Isn’t it amazing to think about how all this creative work is connected to each other through reaction and response? Sometimes I feel as though it is my duty as a creative person to pay homage to that great chain of creative influence, flowing and rippling outwards, to remind people that it is the centrepiece of any and all creative communities.
Because, to be honest, some of the best work comes out of artistic groups, circles of writers and painters and playwrights and poets and all other types of creatives. Think of the Lost Generation, The Bloomsbury Group, and all manner of other unnamed creative communities. They bounce ideas of each other, tell each other the truth of their work and how it makes them feel. This reaction, response and imaginative collaboration brings with it some of the best art this world has seen. I can see it amongst the creative friends I am lucky enough to know and work amongst.
So I think we should stop imagining artists as living in a vacuum, and start giving more attention to the ways in which reaction and response to the creative world around them bring some of the best creative work to the community. Because without reaction and response, there would be no art.
© Hayley New 2016
This piece is, in part, inspired by Rosianna Halse Rojas’s “Space Camp” vlogs. Click here to watch her brilliant videos.
Buy tickets for Kaleidoscope, written by the extremely talented Charlie O’Grady, here.