The Utility of Creativity

“I remember where I was when I heard that he died.”

“He touched little kids. He was a pervert.”

“Yeah, but his music, man. He was one of the greats.”

It’s barely 7:00 in the morning and I am in the throes of moral conflict. I don’t know which deceased musician my coworkers are talking about, but isn’t it telling that it could be any number of men? Isn’t it concerning how often, as Jack Sparrow perceptively points out while walking along the ocean floor under a dinghy, madness and brilliance coincide?

A year or so ago, I attended a conference put on by the church I used to go to regularly. It was suggested by many staff members, including the senior pastor, that this conference was a good place at which to meet one’s future spouse. I don’t feel like I’m in the market for mine, but I was intrigued.

The speakers, each of them an artist in a different field, talked about their experiences in the creative space and generally urged the attendees to create in whatever capacity came most naturally to them—writing, art, music, clothing, strategies for life or business improvement, concepts for innovation at home and in less privileged countries, etc. etc. Do the work of making, create something from nothing, don’t be afraid to fail.

But what are the parameters? All creativity can’t be good creativity. But people who do terrible things can also create beautiful things. How do you reconcile that?

What are the metrics for measuring contributed value?

I’m a pastry chef. When I first started my current position, I had to develop all my recipes—which meant I was making a lot of test batches. Which meant the restaurant staff got a lot of snacks. On a daily basis I’d hear from at least three of my coworkers that they loved me for making tasty treats, but hated me because eating them was making them gain weight. As a person who’s also involved in the health and fitness space, I don’t want to contribute to unhealthy habits. But I love baking because of the happiness it brings people to eat something really delicious. Am I contributing positively?

These are the questions I ask myself when my alarm goes off at 4:00 in the morning. And again when I’m waiting for the coffee to brew. And in specific instances, like the other night at Pageant of the Masters when my cousin and I walked around the artist booths and questioned the existence of the majority of the artwork on display. How did the artists decide the world needed those pieces? Does beauty have to be useful to be worthwhile?

The creative space is a nebulous one.

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  • Emily – never doubt your contributions are more than positive. I love when you write – it leaves me thinking and questioning, and those are good things to do at any time of day.