Regarding the inherent value of creativity and art

That first couple of days back to the grind after a long weekend can certainly be, well, grinding.  This is sort of where I’m at right now- feeling like there are gears rubbing together to their detriment rather than as an effective means of propulsion.  It’s likely not helping that we got MORE FREAKIN SNOW yesterday, but today the sun is shining and the temperature has crawled above the freezing mark, so I’m trying to let that inspire me to get some work finished up.

February is my least favourite month- for any number of reasons, but most of all because- despite the fact that it has the least number of days- it seems to be the lo-o-o-o-o-o-ngest by far.  And it’s generally cold.  And slushy.  And overcast.

I know.  Complaining about the weather is a particularly futile exercise, and I’m really trying hard to get off the complaining-to-no-purpose train.  If I have a complaint it should be about something tangible, and about which I should be able to do something.

2014 is the year of change and action, after all.

Anyhoo.

I saw two movies at the theatre this weekend and finished a couple of books- so I admit to having had more than my fair share of leisure time mixed in with the usual running around and seeing to responsibilities and proactive measures to affect the change I’d like to see, both in my own life and in the world as a whole.

As it turned out, both films very much jibed with the way my thoughts have been cycling lately.  Creativity and art and expression and music and magic and wonder… we NEED more of these things.  And yet, those who undertake these most important human constructions and creations (and those who pursue studies about these most important human constructions and creations) are told- over and over and over again- that there is NO PRACTICAL VALUE in doing so.

Really?  Really!?!?

The first movie was just for fun- but turned out to be more than that.  The Lego Movie featured a pretty cool message- about the need for creativity and the desire to work outside of pre-ordained and restrictive societal norms.  That cookie-cutter buildings, ‘reality’ television shows about the banality of life and prescribed over-priced coffee may resonate with the lowest common denominator, there remain those among us who strive to create things of beauty and value- and that those things can be at least as practical as those that are mundane and conformist.

I loved it.  It was fun and it was clever and it hit all the right notes.  I can’t get that freakin Everything is Awesome song out of my head, but this is incidental.

On Monday we opted for something a little more serious but, interestingly, along the same lines.  The Monuments Men tells a mere slice of the story of the quest to recover art and artifacts stolen by the Nazis over the course of World War II.

I’ve seen a lot of not-so-great reviews of the film and, honestly, not one of them remotely deterred me from checking it out.  For one thing, how do you not love that cast?  And the idea behind it (the movie and the real life events that the movie is based on)?   That crushing the Nazi onslaught and ridding the world of the repulsive ideology that drove the power and land grab- evidence of some of the worst of humanity- would have been an incomplete victory if they had been able to destroy the art that is an expression of the best of humanity?

That.  Exactly that.  How AWESOME and inspiring and affirming is that?!?!

Some have called it ‘preachy’ (ineffectually preachy, actually).  Others suggest that no work of art is worth a human life.  Those who lost their lives (or risked imprisonment as collaborators) in the pursuit of the preservation of some of the greatest art known to humanity begged to differ.  They understood that destroying that which defines us as human- those creations of beauty and insight and appreciation of our world and history and stories- leaves us bereft of a vital element of our shared experiences.

The movie also served to pique my curiosity about the subject and the events and the history of this group of scholars and artists, who, like me, see incredible value in the great works we leave behind us.  The Monuments Men website offers all kinds of resources for education about the men and women of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives) who succeeded in saving so many of Europe’s great cultural and artistic achievements.

I am, primarily, an historian.  I learned about World War II- mainly about Canada’s involvement and through my studies about the Holocaust (from a Religious Studies perspective, for the most part), but the story of the preservation of our art and culture- and the ideology and spirit behind those who successfully emphasized the NEED for the preservation of the art and culture?  This is a new and wonderful lens into an important battle that was fought and won through sacrifice and determination.

In a society that is increasingly determined to insist that everything is disposable commodity, the actions of these men and women- scholars of art and architecture and literature and history- as presented for the popular media in the form of a Hollywood movie (a sincere thank you, Mr. Clooney) is incredibly timely and important.

With every ongoing conflict and new outbreak of violence in the world we are in danger of incrementally losing our shared humanity.  Not just through the egregious and shameful disruption and taking of innocent lives, but through the destruction of our shared history and its important remnants- be they literary, artistic, historical or architectural.

I cried when the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Syria’s ancient treasures- along with its people- are being systematically destroyed, just as happened in Iraq over the course of that ‘conflict’, in the name of political and religious ideologies that are all about power, influence and economics.  Please note that the ideologies driving these wars and atrocities are being enacted IN ALL CASES for the benefit of the few without consideration given to the lives and heritage of the many.

I loved the movie.  I’ve bought the book.

Some reminders for those who persist in refusing to see the necessity of the Humanities.

I have some reading to do.

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4 comments on “Regarding the inherent value of creativity and art

  1. Rick says:

    I have been waiting on Monuments Men to come out, but now I want to see The Lego Movie more. Everyone says it is great.

    • colemining says:

      They’re both well worth the price of a ticket, Rick. And both totally on message (although they approach the subject differently) about the importance of looking at the world with lenses other than those that are driven by economics, politics and avarice.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. bethbyrnes says:

    One of the unfortunate unintended (maybe, who knows) consequences of all the mechanisation that has supplanted hands-on work by human beings, is the loss of craftsmanship in all jobs, not just the material manufacturing jobs. Now that there are software tax programs, the art of accounting (as CPAs used to refer to it) is even impacted, let alone furniture building for example. We no longer have artisans, we have precision cutting and assembling machines. Machines draw the plans, and execute them. We do away with music and painting in school in favour of the STEM core disciplines. It is almost like coloring books taking the place of free-hand drawing among children, at some cost to their developing a wide array of personal abilities. My great grandparents all learned to paint, play instruments, and make things. Most people can barely connect dots, these days. At some point, this sharp swing to efficiency and cost reduction will manifest in limited human faculties and an impoverishment of experience that will shrink our joy and celebration of life. It is troubling. Great post.

    • colemining says:

      All great points, Beth. In an attempt to keep the post a (relatively) reasonable length, I focused on those manifestations of art and craftsmanship that were the focus of the films. As I watched the Lego Movie I was staggered by the number of times I said to myself ‘THAT sounds familiar’ and the bleak comparisons I was making with my beloved hometown as the older, unique and lovely buildings were torn down to make room for the uniform glass and metal monstrosities.
      I have to admit to a pretty substantial level of personal fatigue and exasperation when I feel like I am constantly defending myself and my studies of our human creativity and desire- no, NEED- to produce and maintain things of sublime beauty. Even at dinner, following Monuments Men, as we discussed the film someone commented that I ‘know a lot about history’- as if this is some sort of peculiarity in the general population. It made me want to bite something. HARD.
      Education about our human past- and all its trappings (those that are glorious and those that are shameful) is necessary, and there is no excuse for this knowledge and all the manifestations of our creativity to be viewed as ‘elitism’ or- even worse- a waste of time and resources.
      Thanks for reading!

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