Greg Downs on the Moral Responsibility of Artists

I’m very pleased to introduce today Mr. Greg Downs, writer and smoothie drinker. To be honest, I don’t really know Greg, but it’s relatively safe to assume that he lives on Earth and is, therefore, a carbon-based life form. This should give him some firm common ground with most people in general, as well as the majority of people who read this blog.

In defense of myself (I’m really not that cruel), I offered Greg a choice of topics to write on. He chose one of the hardest and most controversial ones: do artists have any sort of moral responsibility to their audience? It’s an issue I’ve puzzled over for years, and I’m still puzzling over it. Bringing up this issue (as I’ve done before) in writing circles these days immediately raises hackles. Anyway, kudos to Greg for tackling a grizzly bear. I haven’t read Greg’s books myself, but you can check the out via his Amazon author page. You may also investigate him further at his blog.

–Greg Downs on Moral Responsibility–

Do authors (and other artist-types) have a moral responsibility in the works they create? I’m going to tackle this from an authors-only angle first, because I have focus issues and because it should then be easier to apply to other artists: painters, musicians, filmmakers and the like. This is a question that weighs heavily in my mind, unique among the thousands of other questions I have. The reason is simple: if morality doesn’t have significance in art, what does? And if it is significant, then the moral responsibility an author has is crucial.

Well, originally I had planned to write something different here (same conclusion, different path). The intro paragraph was written before the shooting in Colorado that happened during a Dark Knight Rises midnight showing. I hope Christopher won’t mind me diverging slightly from topic… or at least, putting a different spin on it.

The Batman shooting, as we’ll call it, calls to the forefront of my mind a suspicion that has been lurking in the shadows for quite some time. I once wondered about the possibility, but now know it is truth.

Entertainment feeds culture, and culture feeds entertainment. Dark for dark, light for light. It’s a cycle that can mean life or death for a culture or nation.

Is it any wonder that the more conflicted our culture gets, the more conflicted our heroes become? Take the Dark Knight films. Don’t get me wrong, I like superheroes as much as anybody, but the hero here is a man who lives a double life and pretends to be a villain in both of them. What about the villains themselves? Monsters who kill simply for the sake of killing. What happened to power-hungry dark lords and naïve farm boys?

Over and over again, especially in my home genre of fantasy, I see this fairytale/ boy VS dark lord concept being skewered for “unoriginality” and “blandness.” But has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps the reason the good/evil, boy/dark lord, Frodo/Sauron plot is used so often for the exact opposite reason?

Maybe we were meant to write stories about farm boys, not because it’s boring… but because it’s real. It mirrors reality.

That probably seems far-off to you. It kind of does for me, too. But look at what we read nowadays. Look at who we hold up as heroes.

A Game of Thrones. Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Real” now only means grittier, darker, and animalistic. Is it any wonder that the more “realistic” our heroes and villains get, the darker we ourselves become?

If you haven’t yet guessed, I certainly do believe that authors have a moral responsibility to their readers. Ignore both the religious implications and the implications for the relativist viewpoint, if you will. Fine. But to me the evidence is clear. What we put forth as entertainment will have a direct effect on society.

Not ‘can.’ Will.

Culture effects us, too. It’s not a one-way transaction. As authors, I believe we have two main duties, as it were: Firstly, to resist the ‘cultural pull’ and instead direct our energies toward influencing culture for Good. Secondly, to craft amazing stories that will not just improve the morality of entertainment, but improve its quality, too.

You can’t go wrong with the first, but let us never lose sight of it in our pursuit of the second.

~Gregory J. Downs, 7.23.12

Katie’s Stewart’s thoughts on Creativity

I find it fascinating to ask people the same question (no, I’m not a repressed pollster), particularly in the realms of art and culture and spirituality. You never know what you’re going to turn up. We’re all looking at the same thing, aren’t we?, but we all keep on coming up with slightly different or wildly different answers. I recently asked Daniel A. Roberts his opinion on creativity. He had an interesting take on things and I daresay whoever you are, reading this, you have your own take on creativity.

Well, another adventurous soul has stepped up to the plate. Katie Stewart is an author who I have run into online at Goodreads and at the Kindleboards. Other than that, I don’t know her from Adam, but she’s a polite and courageous lady to tackle the whys and whats and hmms of creativity. Look, it’s one thing (and a fairly humdrum thing) for authors to be always nattering on about their books. It’s an entirely different thing for them to contemplate the bones that lie beneath.

Katie keeps a blog at Katiewstewart.com, and her books (which I have not read) are available on Amazon.

–Katie Stewart on Creativity–

Creativity. That’s the ‘something’ that artists and inventors have, but no one else does, isn’t it? That something that makes them different? Well, no, I don’t think it is. I think everyone has it, but more on that later.

Creativity is the ability to take reality and peel away common perceptions (and sometimes misconceptions) until a new perspective is found. It requires two things for it to happen: imagination and need. Imagination allows someone to change their point of view, to rethink what they experience. It allows them to go beyond what is and discover what might be. In other words it allows us to go beyond knowledge. No matter how much a person knows, without imagination they will never develop anything truly new.

Need in creativity is twofold. Firstly creativity stems from a need in society. Where there is a need, someone will look for an answer; someone will imagine a solution and find a way to make it real. On the other hand there is a need in the creator. How many ‘creative’ types become depressed? I believe that this often stems from a need to create which is stifled for some reason. It’s an instinct which, if ignored, skews perspective. But I’m not a psychologist, so don’t quote me on that.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and state that I believe in a Creator. I call him God. Others have different names, but I believe them all to be the same Creator being. The universe has to have been created somehow. It didn’t just happen without some creative force behind it. Otherwise we’d still be a sea of floating particles. I also believe, however, that this Creation is still in progress. Nothing in the Universe ever stays the same. The Creator is always creating and so there is change. That is why creativity is so important – because without it, there would be no change.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to jump on my hobby horse (one of them, anyway). When people talk of a creative work, such as a painting that they have seen, they quite blithely say that the artist ‘put himself’ into that piece. In the same way, I believe that everyone has a part of their Creator in them. So I believe that everyone is born with the ability to create. A child, twelve months old, sitting on the floor pushing a little red block and saying ‘vrmmm’ is creating. He’s gone beyond the parameters of the block and turned it into something else. All children do it. However, somewhere along the way, this ability to imagine beyond reality is drummed out of all but the most stubborn of them. ‘No, darling, use the brown crayon. You’ve never seen a blue dog, have you?’ ‘Stop banging on the piano, Fred, I’m trying to watch TV.’ ‘That’s not really a computer is it? It’s made of Lego.’

Schools have always been geared around teaching children facts that they can regurgitate at will. Fortunately, I think that technology is changing that. Knowledge is now available at the touch of a button, worldwide knowledge. It no longer needs to be stored in the head. Now children can be taught to create new possibilities, to manipulate all that knowledge and create change. Yes, gaining new knowledge (ie research) is still extremely important, and knowing which ‘knowledge’ is real is a skill that will have to be taught, but it’s how knowledge is used that will determine the future. I’m all for the IT Revolution.

An Interrogation of Daniel A. Roberts on the subject of Creativity

I occasionally get bored with myself dashing off thoughts and rants on this blog. As I am not schizophrenic and therefore unable to turn on a different personality to supply a different perspective, I have come up with a solution: other people and their thoughts and rants.

Today? Daniel A. Roberts. I don’t know Daniel. I’m fairly certain he isn’t on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. In addition, I don’t think he had anything to do with Lenin and Co toppling the Romanov Dynasty. I do know, however, that he’s a writer (I have evidence for this: Daniel’s website and Daniel’s Amazon Author Page). I can’t vouch for his books, as I haven’t read any of them. However, I can vouch for his courage in tackling what is not an easy subject (and his good humor in doing so).

Today’s interrogation is on the subject of creativity. Have you ever wondered where creativity comes from? Why are we creative? Why isn’t your dog, who is currently chasing his own tail, creative? What does creativity mean? You get the drift. Let’s see what Daniel can come up with.

–Daniel’s Response–

Creativity is a child of future ambitions, parented by past experiences and present conditions.  Be it a challenge in problem solving, an exercise in sculpting a piece of art, or merely whistling a tune made up on the spur of the moment, your working from a unique substance.  The essence of that substance is forged by human willpower.  The glue that keeps creativity in line with a person’s imagination are developed throughout that individual’s life.  This is why when you have two people go to the same exact event and stand side by side, and you ask them later on to create a picture of what they saw, you will have two completely different visuals.

Like a rope, creativity comes from many different things twined together.  Imagination.  A sprinkle of knowledge.  The ability to connect with an internal desire and suddenly, creativity comes into existence.  Take a musician as an example.  They create songs to inspire, to move emotions.  They make it up, hence the use of their imagination.  They have to use the knowledge of their instruments and for some, their musical education.  Savants who are musically talented by ear still reach for knowledge, but on an instinctive level rather than a formal education.  The desire comes from their passion for music, and thus creativity is born.

If not for creativity, the very essence of this medium in which you are reading these words through wouldn’t have been created.  A long time ago, in an age we cannot recall as a race, somebody decided to create a wheel.  That very tiny particle of primitive creativity changed the world.  For all of our technology today, if the wheel was erased and unattainable for whatever reasons, we would be devastated as a civilization.  Every speck of creativity is priceless because of this, simple or complicated in nature.  No matter how small something may seem, a hundred, even a thousand years from now, the end results of our own creativity may also end up changing the world.

Creativity has meaning for the same reason why food is priceless to a starving person.  We crave creativity on all levels.  Our minds demand it from other sources, as it isn’t a self serving essence.  We consume it each and every time we read a book, watch a movie, look at art or listen to a song.  It means quite a bit to the human mind, or we begin to suffer without it.  If you were to tune out all measures of creativity even for a day, the ‘boredom’ your mind would generate would drive you crazy.

On the flip side of this view, there are those who aren’t happy unless they can contribute their own creativity.  They want to give back something to the world that fed their minds.  Saturated with countless bits and pieces, they use their own creativity that aligns with their passions.  Like writers, they were readers first.  Musicians were listeners first.  Teachers in a classroom were students well before they started their creative career.  Yes, teachers must use creativity to teach.  They stand up in front of an audience for a living, going through the motions of an actor/actress and speaking in a manner that won’t tranquilize their students.  Sadly, not all teachers are a success in that department, just as much as others aren’t successful in their creative ventures.  Does it make it mean anything less?  Nope.  The contribution is still valuable.  Even the most mundane, primitive creations mean something.  Remember the wheel?  I bet you anything another ancient human looked at the inventor and said, “What is that piece of garbage good for?  Our legs work just fine.”  In that case, it was true for them.  They didn’t have machine gears, cars, wagons or anything that needed wheels of any sort.  We need them today!  As in right now.  So our own contributions that arise from creativity will always mean something to somebody.  If not today, then most certainly sometime in the future.

(Question from Christopher: If you believe in evolution, why does creativity have any value springing from an evolutionary matrix? Contrariwise, if you are a theist/deist of some kind, why does creativity have any value springing from that matrix?)

As a non-denominational Christian, my thoughts on this might surprise you.  The evolutionary matrix and the creationist matrix both walk hand in hand.  One cannot exist without the other, the value of both is necessary for life to push back against an entropic universe.  Let me clarify that a bit if it sounds confusing.

Our universe is entropic.  Everything breaks down.  In space, suns are burning up fuel.  Matter collides with other matter, it gets smashed into smaller pieces all the time.  We die, we break down and physically rot.  That’s the sum of our existence.  Life is creation infused with creativity and evolution all tied together.  It’s the only substance in this tired old universe that pushes back against entropy.  You can’t push back against an entire universe that’s breaking down without some form of creation.  Some scientists call it the Big Bang.  Which is fine, until it gets asked, “What made the stuff that went bang?”  Novels, both fiction and non-fiction have been written about that subject, I won’t revisit those points here.  What I will say is something sparked differently, and hence we grow, think, love, laugh, live and create.  Some call it science we don’t understand yet, I call it God.  Regardless of who’s wrong or right, the end results evolves from mutual existence.  If life doesn’t evolve as it creates more life, entropy wins and life would be snuffed out forever.

To give the best picture possible of where my stance is on this, I’d like to share something others might call ‘unusual’ but none the less accurate.  What would you say if I could prove that you could be a god?  Not ‘the’ God of our universe, but the god of another.  Nuts, right?  Try this out, then rethink the ‘nuts’ part.  Get a pencil and a sheet of paper.  Write down a brief short story of a little girl going to the store.  Describe her dress color.  Her eye color.  Put a dollar in her hand.  Then set the pencil down.  What did you just do?  You created that little girl’s universe.  Her earth, her solar system, everything she knows and loves, created by you, using a measure of creativity.  Congratulations, you just became her nameless god.  You can change her eye color on a whim.  Change her dress color.  Have her get bullied.  Or you could write in a hero.  Or give the little girl powers to defend herself.  Regardless of what happens, you are using creativity to make her universe work.  You know everything about her.  If you want to include her parents, well guess what?  You just created them, too.  See how easy it was?

Now don’t think that I’m saying I’m a god, I’m not.  That was just a creative example to address the issue.  We writers use our creativity to assemble entire universes.  Since I believe we are made in God’s image, wouldn’t you think God would be impressed that we create our own worlds to play in?  Right now, we let evolution carry our free will into a future that we can’t see, but He can.  Isn’t it mentioned somewhere that we can be ‘erased’ from the Book of Life if we abuse our free will towards evil?  Uh oh, a book!  Are we then words on a page?  We wouldn’t know it anymore than the little girl in that short one page story.

Creeping out yet?  Good.  Creative thinking is always valuable, especially when it stirs emotions.  Evolution or Creation can’t do it alone.  Just like we can’t be creative if we lack knowledge, or lack passion.  Or willpower.  That extra element, the part of it all that comes from our own creativity, is actually assembled by a living being.  Who would argue against it?  Perhaps that little girl’s parents in your story.  They might not believe in you!

To sum it up, the components of our own universe that makes the difference in who we really are, will always remain unknown to us while here.  Our creativity will be of value regardless of the matrix one subscribes to, because like life, creativity is always moving forward.  It Becomes something that can reshape the world as we know it, and if that’s not considered of value, then somebody needs a new scale to measure things by.

-Daniel A. Roberts