On Creation, and Art for Art’s Sake

The topic of creation is a fascinating one, inspiring many a myth and legend as means of providing meaning to our mortal existence. Whether formed of clay, born of chaos, or appearing out of darkness, the stories that cultures tell about the creation of humans reveal various aspects about what those cultures thought about themselves. Creation myths, in general, act as a means of explaining the unknown. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? When cultures tell their creation stories to answer these questions, they’re expressing parts of their unique cultural identity.

Being Created vs Happening

white ceramic flower vase on brown wooden table
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

So many cultures explain the creation of the world, and of humanity, as an act of creation. And just like with a work of art, we’re inevitably going to ask why. Think about a painting, or a sculpture, or any piece of art. Art is something we create. As such, we generally expect the artist to provide an explanation for their creation via an artist’s statement. Even accidental art pieces, pieces of work that were created by happy accidents, are given meaning in the artist’s statement.

The questions we ask about humanity seem, to me, to parallel the questions that are answered in an artist’s statement.

When we ask how humans came to exist, it’s possible that we’re asking under the assumption that humankind wasn’t created, we just so happened to happen. But when we ask why, when we ask what’s the point, well….doesn’t that show that we’re implicitly accepting the idea that we’re created beings?

At any rate, it doesn’t matter whether or not we’re created beings! It’s one of those things that we can’t ever really know the answer to, so why stress about it too much, right?

l’art pour l’art

L’art pour l’art is generally translated into English as “art for art’s sake.” It, essentially, means that art requires no agenda in order to be considered valuable. Art doesn’t have to preach political propaganda, to tout religious moralism, or for any other reason outside of simply existing.

We have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake … and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in the true poetic dignity and force:– but the simple fact is that would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem per se, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written solely for the poem’s sake.

Edgar Allen Poe

An artist wants to create, and so they create! Just take a look at children; they have no agendas in their art, they express themselves and tell stories through their art as they see fit.

Challenging Creation

Art for art’s sake has many critics. For some, the idea that art can exist simply to exist is absurd and pointless; it doesn’t matter to them whether the piece is beautiful or whether the artist enjoyed creating it unless there’s a specific message behind the piece. This sort of view, I think, is often mirrored in attitudes towards creation myths.

round mirror on a field of daisies
Photo by Lukáš Dlutko on Pexels.com

If we were created, then we must have been created for a purpose. Right? People seem to find it difficult to accept that we were created without a specific purpose (supposing we were created at all). For me, I like to believe that we were created, and honestly, I don’t care much about the why of the matter (and as for the how of creation, I have no qualms with the Big Bang theory).

I paint without purpose all the time. And when I play ukulele, it isn’t to send some sort of message; I just like to listen to the sounds that are created by the instrument. Seeing the various colors of paint, hearing the harmonious tones of the instrument, those things bring me joy, and that’s enough of a reason for me to create.

The painting doesn’t ask why it was made, the song doesn’t question why it was played.

Sure, those things aren’t sentient, so they can’t ask those questions. But honestly, I think we could learn a lot from them in regards to l’art pour l’art.

Mirrored Meaning

When we create things, there’s going to be a bit of ourselves within the created piece. Consider cover songs. When a band covers a song by another band or artist, the song is going to change to reflect the style of the cover artist. The cover artist will inevitably make it their own, no matter how close to the original they’re trying to stay.

To believe that we were created, and there is a bit of our Creator within us, is so l’art pour l’art. When we make music, when we create paintings, or write poetry, are we not searching for a beautiful experience? Are we not expressing the beauty we feel within ourselves? Does seeing our own beauty expressed in various ways not bring us joy?

By that logic, why shouldn’t we, as created beings, be allowed to simply exist as expressions of joy, as reflections of the beauty that our Creator feels?

I don’t know. But I don’t see why not!

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