Creativity vs. Subjectivity

Food for Thought

We value “creativity,” but not all the outcomes of our creativity are meaningful to ourselves. For instance, when I look at the graphic design work I did twenty years ago, other than its nostalgic value, it doesn’t mean much to me. Some random drawing I did for myself is more meaningful.

“Creativity” can mean cleverness, like problem-solving skills, but you can be clever and reveal nothing about yourself. The opposite is true too: you can make a painting that isn’t particularly inventive, clever, or new, but meaningful to yourself.

What makes it meaningful? It is more about “subjectivity” than it is about “creativity.” What makes creative outputs meaningful to us is the presence of the subject that emerges between words, musical notes, and brushstrokes. If we analyze the individual elements, this subject escapes our grasp. We might be better off looking away from it to find it.

Just as our bodies need food to survive, I believe our souls need creativity. We become bored and depressed without creative outlets, but being creative isn’t enough either. You can create something on behalf of others. When you work for someone, you represent your employer or client in what you create. Although advertising is considered a “creative” business, you could spend your whole life in it and still feel completely empty at the end of it.

For many, having children satisfies their need to express subjectivity. By default, your subjectivity is already expressed in the genes your child inherits. Through parenting, you continue to mold her to be your Mini-Me.

The beauty of parenting as a form of self-expression is that even if others criticize your creation, your child functions as a layer of defense because there is another ego between you and the critics. It’s not like writing your own song and being laughed at.

But eventually, your child, too, develops the need to express her subjectivity. Before she can do so freely, she first needs to escape your iron grip. If your child is not a drone, she will attempt to exorcise your subjectivity like a snake shedding its skin. Once she no longer needs you, you are back to the empty square one.