The essence of creativity, as expressed by Man Ray

August 5, 2011 by Joshua
in Art, Blog, Creativity, Humor

Why do we create and invent? Many people enjoy creating, but can’t express why — what they get out of it or what motivates them. The masters often express these things best — mastery often requires understanding your motivations. A quote by Man Ray has stuck with me for years after first hearing it on an American Masters documentary on him. I believe it expresses a, or perhaps the, fundamental reason we create. He talks about fine art, but his answer is general.

I’ll let him say it best below. I’ll say a bit on the matter in my words so you can see how much better he puts it. I believe we create art to express emotions words don’t or can’t. Any emotion is fair, but we want our expression to resonate with the most number of people of different cultures, times, ages, etc. The more broadly they appeal, the more the expressions feel true and beautiful.

We want to express truth and beauty, which means we have to access what feels true within us. We have to understand ourselves and be genuine and authentic. I believe the search for understanding, genuineness, and authenticity is at the root of any art — visual, music, drama, dance, writing, etc — as well as for any creative endeavor, including science, engineering, math, etc.

So the path to creating art is rooted in the search inside for who we are. And therefore the greatest benefit is in discovering ourselves and the path to get there.

I believe Man Ray’s quote below summarizes the above more succinctly.

For background, ARTnews magazine named him “one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century, citing his groundbreaking photography as well as ‘his explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage, and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art’ and saying ‘Man Ray offered artists in all media an example of a creative intelligence that, in its ‘pursuit of pleasure and liberty,’—Man Ray’s stated guiding principles—’unlocked every door it came to and walked freely where it would.”

I borrowed the video again to copy the passage (Man Ray: “To create is divine, to reproduce is human.”). The documentary closes with it, undoubtedly expressing the director’s idea that it captures something essential, fundamental, and all-encompassing of Man Ray and his work. In particular, it comes just after describing how Man Ray is now recognized as one of the great artists of the twentieth century.

The quote comes at the end of this video. The text is below. The beginning of the video gives the context of Man Ray’s great legacy. The quote is his answer to the off-screen interviewer as he puts out his cigar. It sounds like he’s joking, but recall, he’s a master nearing the end of his life. I believe he answered openly and honestly, getting to the heart of why he created the work he did.

I transcribed it (do I care about my readers, or what?):

Narrator: Working in his studio until the very end Man Ray died in 1976. He was 86 years old.

A friend or relative of Man Ray: What I’m referring to is not successful people. I’m referring to the avant-garde. The people who are really paving the way and will be known afterward. So, in other words, his works do not sell very well until after he died. This is, alas, the story of our lives. Then things go way up. You have to die first.

Narrator: And now his time has finally come. At exhibitions like this in Los Angeles, a new generation discovers Man Ray. His major works now sell in the millions. Man Ray wrote “I simply try to be as free as possible, in my manner of working and in my choice of subject. No one can dictate to me or guide me.”

Narrator: Refusing to be categorized, Man Ray succeeded in making his own style of life his best artwork of all.

Interviewer: Looking back at your life, what would you say satisfied you most?

Man Ray: [Pauses, slowly puts out cigar, looks at interviewer] I think women.

Interviewer: Looking back at your life, what would you say satisfied you most?

Man Ray: I think women.

His answer is funny and I think he’s smiling when he says it, but I think the humor is not in the content of the answer, but that he decided to answer so directly, without pretense or explanation.

For a (straight) man seeking genuineness and authenticity, nothing reveals the lack of either better than a woman. Because, as far as I can tell, few things are less attractive to a woman than inauthenticity and disingenuousness. If you think know who you are, be yourself with a woman. She will walk away if you talk different than you behave.

Likewise, few things are more attractive than authenticity and genuineness. I believe him saying women satisfied him most implies he understood who he was and what he wanted to express and shared that with them — which would be his greatest measure of success in his art. Satisfaction with women meant he understood emotions deep enough they appealed to all.

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