You know when you see a brand new Porsche and you just get the overwhelming urge to take out your giant serrated garage key and commit a felony? That's how I feel about the need to be creative. It's an innate, uncontrollable impulse. I have always loved being creative and having a willing imagination to inspire creativity. But sometimes creativity is allusive, and needs a little fostering. Needs a nice little hug. The routine of day to day life can get in the way of feeling like you want to create something new. I have found that even when I can't create my own art or express myself, consuming aesthetically pleasing things helps me quench that need for creativity. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a wild statement: I think we ALL love to consume aesthetically pleasing things! Why else have we planned our entire lives around such beloved and inspiring platforms as Instagram and Pinterest? We love to munch on that lunch! Snack on that crack. Don't get me wrong... I am right there with you. I just spent 2 hours on a work day looking at how many different variations of honey blond Diane Kruger has dyed her hair in the last 3 years. It's 27, in case you were wondering. Now since I don't have the time (cough cough, erm, money....) to dye my hair 27 shades of rich (still on that money thing) blonde, I lived vicariously through the creativity of someone else's self expression, with nothing to lose! It was great! But, at second glance.....
I want to be careful I am not saddling my computer screen with the responsibility of fulfilling my human desire to digest beautiful things. For when I do this, even though I have giant eyeballs with which to take it all in, I am effectively ignoring my other five senses! (Yes, that's right. I see dead people.) When such a plethora of content is just one url away, it can be hard to force oneself to actually go EXPERIENCE beauty in real life. To gaze, to feel, to breath it in and out of your human flesh.
I recently revisited one of my favorite NPR TED Radio Hour podcasts titled ''What Is Beauty?'' In it, Nancy Etcoff, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, speaks of her studies on the science of beauty. She states that she believes beauty is needed to live and survive. ''Beauty draws us in........it takes us outside of ourselves and it motivates us. So I believe that beauty is essential to life and to happiness.'' She is talking mainly about beauty accredited to Mother Nature, but philosopher Denis Dutton goes on to say that our need for beauty doesn't end with mountain landscapes and flower fields. He adds that we find beauty in manmade things that are well-done. Provoking art, touching music, hand-crafted workmanship, stimulating architecture.... we are programmed to respond to beauty. It's primal. He explains,''Our powerful reaction to images, to the expression of emotion in art, to the beauty of music, to the night sky, will be with us and our descendents for as long as the human race exists.''
Our desire for beauty is so unequivocally human. And since beauty makes us feel, I believe it is essential to feel beauty! I mean this in a very literal, tactile, put your sticky peanut butter hands on it, type of kinesthetic feel. Let it be an experience so the whole of you can enjoy the whole of it. It doesn't have to be conventionally dazzling. It doesn't have to come off well in a picture. It doesn't have to be amazing to anyone but you and your human self.
Last week I went on a special quest, commissioned by myself. I went out of my apartment (gasp) and into my surroundings to just look. I let myself be inspired by colors. Then I took off my polarized sunglasses and let myself be re-inspired by colors. I walked down a street I normally bypass into a park I've never taken the time to sit down in. I let myself be enchanted by the playful spiral design of a staircase shadow on an otherwise dreary building facade. I happened upon the utterly unimpressive city block where Mozart lived with his mother for a year (see Millennials, it's not just you!) I lusted after the plump tulips at the flower market that looked so fresh I wanted to nimble them for a midday snack. I observed, with a certain melancholy, a lonely swing set in a lush city park. (Though I stopped observing when a little boy came over because I'm pretty sure there are laws against watching children in parks.)
It's true that if we live vicariously through the adventure and beauty of others, we have nothing to lose. If we scour for beauty on the world wide web for hours and hours, we have only spent the sheer willpower it took our corneas to stare at a Retina display that long. After all, the images we see online are more exciting, impressive, expensive, and maybe even more traditionally beautiful than our lives. I have lived in this city for six years, and it is amazing how energized and inspired I felt from simply deviating off my beaten path, taking my sweet time to admire shapes, sounds, the way the round nob of the pruned sycamore meets the sky like a stubby wooden firework. My immediate surroundings being a city, most of the delights I happened upon were urban. And honestly, on any other day they might have been mundane. But my willingness to see it in a creative light made it beautiful to me, and therefore inspired the creativity I felt I so lacked at that time. I didn't even need to key that Porsche.
If I haven't convinced you yet that it is imperative to sieze the beauty in our own lives, then I'll leave you with this last little morsel from the TED Radio Hour podcast on beauty. In the final interview, host Guy Raz asks Richard Seymour, product designer, if he thinks we need beauty the same way we need food or love. Seymour's response?
''I believe that we need beauty to the most astounding level. I think if we deprive ourselves of the appreciation and the contact with beauty that it diminishes our existence, quite considerably.''
So it turns out its not a superfluous urge to get away from our screens and experience beauty with our whole being. Being creative and fostering aesthetic urges are hardwired as needs in our brains..... and might just be the key to unlock our individual potential.
PS, Relax...I've never keyed a Porsche.