I heard something inspiring during yesterday’s commute, Krista Tippett’s radio show, On Being.
This episode was about creativity. Her guest was Neuropsychologist Rex Jung. When asked to define creativity, he fleshed out three components. Ideally, in his opinion, a creative act will be novel, useful and also, social. Novelty doesn’t need much explanation. It seems to be the first aspect of creativity that occurs to most people.
Useful, on the other hand, is a more interesting concept. (Was Duchamp’s urinal useful?) Often, artists that I would describe as amateur, whether painters, writers or so on, throw the idea of usefulness out the window. As long as their art dealt with their emotions of the moment they put the onus on everyone else to see its value. This leads me to the last aspect, art’s social value.
In all honesty, if a work of art doesn’t have social value, if it doesn’t have usefulness, is it really art? All art is made with an intention to communicate. If a machine (William Carlos William’s red wheelbarrow or Pete Seeger’s banjo, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”) that was made to produce something doesn’t produce the thing it was designed to produce, the onus sits squarely on its inventor’s shoulders.
We don’t always think of art in this fashion. Whenever I hear a new song, the first thing I ask myself is, “Do we need this song?” I think writers would do well to apply a similar test to their poems. Assume that readers will ask, “Do we need this haiku?” followed by “What is it trying to offer me?”