Compulsion to create

About six years ago a policeman led me down some concrete stairs to the windowless jail beneath the police station. He brought me into a room, more like a closet, with no door and fingerprinted me. While I pressed and rolled my ink-stained fingers to the paper gleaming white in the florescent lights, he asked, “So, what do you do?

At that stage in my life I had been focusing on making sculpture, a subject I’d studied and loved in college. So, I replied, “I’m an artist.”

He looked at me then. Really looked. And said, “That’s good.” He paused. “Because there’s enough people in the world destroying things. We need people to make things.”

His comment struck me. Really struck me. I wondered how much destruction (to property, to hope, to life) he’d seen in his career. I wondered how much he longed for creation.

Then he let me go. Back up the stairs and into the daylight on Hereford Street in the Christchurch CBD. He hadn’t booked me. I wasn’t in trouble for a crime. Getting fingerprinted was simply one step in the process for  New Zealand residency.

I thought:

…people to make things, he’d said.




Recently I compiled a mental list of  many of my favorite things to do—drawing, sewing, sculpting, music, gardening, singing, writing, photography. Hiking, surfing, swimming, snowboarding, kayaking—and I realized that my favorite things fall into two categories. Creative endeavors and nature loving.

I love creating things. Making stuff. If I took away that “creating” list I’d get restless. Even with all the incredible scenery and outdoor opportunities around New Zealand.

So what is this compulsion to create?

I was even exploring this idea in college (10 years ago) in my photography exhibition, These hands: celebrating the creative spirit. Though I’d phrased it differently. My artist’s statement began:

The desire *“to bring into existence”—to create—is an inherent part of being human. As children we have all built snowmen or sandcastles. As adults we have all created music or doodled on paper. Why? There is an automatic desire to create, to build, and ultimately to enjoy the very basic and fundamental act.

Throughout human history there is an abundance of evidence that creating has been consistently undertaken, regardless of continent or culture—from the gilded and jeweled sarcophagi of ancient Egypt to the intricately glazed ceramics of ancient China. Creative endeavors were, and remain, an integral component of everyday life and human existence.

So, creating is innate for us all—not just for me—and the act itself can be recognized in both obvious and unassuming places.

So why this compulsion?

It’s most often not for fame or fortune, I’d guess. So why? And do all/most lovers of creating (artists, musicians, filmmakers, crafters…) have more than one creative interest? Or do two or more efforts dilute the effectiveness of the primary one?

But maybe there’s no need in the end to answer these questions. Maybe it’s enough to simply foster creative efforts. Maybe. And maybe I already had this answer in 2002 when I wrote the last sentence to my artist’s statement:

 The goal of this exhibition is to celebrate the creative impulses that dwell within us all.

*Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1993.


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