(2nd in a 2 part series)
Good Ole Chuck Darwin. Now, there was a courageous guy. In the face of intense cultural, theistically moderated pressures, including from his own devoted spouse, he not only considered a big new idea, but then went about systematically describing it. It took him years after he got off that pitching boat, The Beagle, to put it into a volume, but he did it, and we are forever in his debt.
What does that beautiful, smart, perceptive revelation have to do with the creative process? Consider:
Early on, survival of the fittest simply meant that the fastest, strongest, meanest, or most elusive managed to pass on genes from one generation to the next. This statement still obtains, of course, even if the contemporary list of strategies for demonstrating those capabilities has expanded in a human context. But a funny thing happened in human evolution many thousands of years ago. Soaked by rain, exhausted by hunger, old and often worn out by the time individuals reached 30 years of age, humanity began to experiment with a new means for passing on genes. Humanity began to create art.
Cave paintings and small sculptures will not keep a village fed when winter comes. But cave paintings help tell stories today of how villages stayed fed during hard winters past. There becomes a currency in superior ability for some paintings to convey nuance and detail. Genes of a cultural sort continue beyond the boundaries of ordinary lifetimes. With visual art language must develop in lockstep, and culture, suddenly, endures. Some people are better at these activities than others. Some people earn their keep by casting nets for fish, while others earn their keep by casting and carving clay pots. Either way, acts of creation become part of the overall drama of survival.
Is that really any different from those people today who create digital works? Some people write the code that enables vast numbers to post messages to the world, while others excel at creating the photographs and textual content that gets posted on those electronic cave walls. Both groups preserve culture even though the skills are not the same. Both groups are creators and both schools of thought endure.
What does this tell us? Things aren’t especially different today from survival strategies of the past as we click and talk-to-text and upload and transmit our glowing cave paintings. It tells us that the new housing complex we’re trying to build requires architects, bankers, bricklayers, and publicists. It reminds us that we live in communities, requiring diverse skill sets to see complex things through. It reminds us that continuity can only happen if we encode our work, record our lives in some way, get other people involved in our experience. Creative work therefore becomes a mechanism for survival. We adapt to create, just as we create to adapt.