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Literature as a Form of Art and Expression

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INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this essay is to examine literary creativity within the context that views all sides of the coin. This being said general and broad assumptions could be made about literary art and creative thought separately. These are concepts within society, which are explored, as it is human nature to understand human behaviour and the products of such behaviour. Literature and creativity are entirely in the eye of the beholder and subjective with in a set frame of reference. Unfortunately we live in a world where creativity and art are not always valuable strengths and commodities. Within the philosophical framework, people who are labelled artistically creative from the conservative viewpoint, they are not understood, often seen unstable and unproductive members of society. From this conservative viewpoint, creative people do not use the logical part of his or her brain and this leads to difficulty seeing the enlightened view where the self is valued as a freethinking body. There is flexibility for exploring one’s ideas and dreams. Artists have often been called dreamers. Artistic people live by a different credo, sometimes starving but always determined to stay true to his or her art form. Once again because society has difficulty valuing art and creativity; artists live with the conflict of expectation; what society expects and what the artist’s need to remain true.

While the purpose of this paper is to examine the nature literary creativity for the sake of expression, it is also important to compare and contrast two English language texts to show how they are similar and different in terms of creativity. The two chosen works were: (1) Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday and (2) Robert K. Kennedy’s speech paying tribute to Martin Luther King Junior upon his assassination. With this in mind because of such a stark difference in content of the juxtaposition, it can also be argued that while both exhibit social identity to the time and a certain amount thoughtfulness with word selection and placement for creating moving pieces, one will stand alone as more literary and creative. Both are powerful in creating a vision and paying homage to a great American but Happy Birthday exhibits more creative traits than the speech. Still it should be mentioned that any rating of creativity is subjective and in the eye of the beholder and their distinctive taste. For this purpose, Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday has more literary style, true to one’s idea toward poetry and expressionism. It fits the cultural norm more than a speech mainly because a speech is in the moment and while powerful, visionary can never recapture that moment in time the same way a song can.

This brings up the notion of interpretation.

Modern times ask for art, literary or otherwise to stand up to a test of many truths. It asks for man to apply the action of interpretation, analysis that in of it self has many drawbacks. Susan Sontag writes, “Interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value, a gesture of mind situated in some timeless realm of capabilities. Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness.”[1]

Still society’s view is slowly changing to include flexibility of multicultural understanding. Suddenly artists have a valued identity. Mark Freeman discusses the nature of understanding one’s muse with knowing one’s character with this quote:

Rather than there simply existing those who paint or sculpt…alongside the other productive activities with human beings might become engaged, there arose ‘painters’ and ‘sculptors’, who came to define their very existence through their identities…Creative activities would be woven into the fabric of life itself. [2]

The paragraphs below serve to define creativity within the frame of reference of modern times and the age of enlightenment lends to the self-actualising open-mindedness and freedom to embrace creative thought. With this in place, literary art and creativity can result and thrive within the model context.

CREATIVITY

At the bare bones level of literary creativity, one finds inspiration in words and sounds inherent in how at the fundamental level these connections offer a richness and duality of meaning. These meanings are enhanced by simple creative choices made by the writer or artist. It has been discussed how change is important and also memory, not only of a collective socio-cultural history and consciousness, but also of how the creative process is fostered at the root of words. This is Maybin’s inherency model where the key focus remains on words. This essay strives for deeper analysis at the socio-cultural level where history suggests impact and resonates across the many divisions found within the global multi-culture of modern times.[3]

Numerous definitions of creativity are recorded in the literature. Creativity is often defined by use of synonyms. These include productive thinking, divergent thinking, originality, imagination, and lateral thinking. Because there is no generally accepted definition of creativity, it would be helpful to look at some definitions to date. Creativity is defined as “the association of thoughts, facts, ideas, etc. into a new and relevant configuration, one that has meaning beyond the sum of its parts—that provides a synergistic effect.”[4] Bennis and Beiderman define the creative process as “that mental process in which past experience is combined and recombined, frequently with some distortion, in such a fashion that one comes up with new patterns, new configurations, that better solve some need of mankind.”[5] Although this sampling of definitions reveals diverse elements found in creativity, these definitions do suggest some common thread found in creative thinking and that is, a new way of doing things. From this overview standpoint, one can define creativity as a process that solves a problem in a new and original way that is useful for those who value this process. It should be noted that the elements of uniqueness of solution and value of results are incorporated into the definition.

Creativity experts feel that especially the American educational system should be teaching constructive, creative-thinking skills; focusing on “what can be.” It is the notion of possibility that remains to be seen. They believe what is needed is a whole change of attitude toward creativity in general. It is a matter of thinking differently and of seeing outside the box. For so long, there have been restrictions due to such philosophical concepts of "what is". While art is subjective, this scares people because it evokes a feeling of uncertainty. Many find if something can be touched, seen and looks what they expect then it is acceptable. This concept does not allow for the realm of endless possibility. Still there has been a shift in thinking differently about “what is” because this can vary from person to person and culture to culture. The world is changing quickly because its borders are invisible, information flows freely. Therefore ideas are no longer linear but branch off with each new thought. It should also be noted that creativity is not limited to “the arts” as traditionalists may see it. No art can be found in mathematics, science and the simple act of washing dishes. This once again expresses the enlightened view that the self is aware and finds beauty in nature. Still this notion may bother many because they do not see the potential of art as a “what is” but as “it just is.” They are not able to see past the surface to the inner meaning or soul behind the expression. They may not even be aware of the act of expression and how creativity feeds into the energy of art.

The limitless possibility of embracing creativity as a regular everyday process probably comes from the multiple definitions that creativity morphs into much like a prism seen in different degrees of light. From the literary works at hand written by Stevie Wonder and Robert F. Kennedy, it is the creativity energy of the time and its scope that not only define the levels of the works’ literary qualities but also the scope, the actual use of words to convey powerful messages. Carter’s work explains how most common people chose to see and understand literature when exposed to an artist’s process. Examples of such by the outsider can be seen as the following: “Unanswered questions, hesitations and false starts which characterise informal conversations…there is much divergence, disconnection and incoherence.”[6]

CREATIVE ARTISTIC FLOW

The artistic process relies upon creativity within this direct relationship. It has not helped that creative people have been invisible, living a lifestyle motivated by fulfilling the need for expression of the self. What makes creative people different from others is that they do not buy in into the typical means of motivation. Many different factors motivate people to behave the way they do. There are higher and lower order needs that balance out these acts of motivation. Lower order needs must be satisfied before the higher order needs can be addressed. This is within the conservative view loosing based on Maslow’s theory.[7] Lower order needs are such things as essential items needed for life like shelter, food and clothing. These needs do not recognise needs beyond the means of survival. The higher order needs are considered luxury needs but in the mind of the creative person, needs are of an eternal notion. They cannot see this need but it is engrained in the soul and must be addressed.

Creative people have the ability to simply live for what they enjoy. The act of creativity involves a sense of adventure, a suspending disbelief to use one’s imagination for the purpose of seeing solutions. Brainstorming serves, as a method where ideas bubble over in every direction and no longer is the thought process linear but endless in possibility. In this respect anyone with an open mind can be creative as Csikszentmihalyi writes, “it seems strange that dancers, rock climbers, and composers all argue that their most enjoyable experiences resemble a process of discovery.”[8] The concept of enjoyment plays a huge factor in creativity because of a dual mechanism found within the human genes. This duality is inherent within humans to seek comfort with reference to more primitive times of flight or fight. There is the need to conserve energy written in the DNA. Understanding the concept of enjoyment ties in with this mechanism because people find different ways to relax and seek comfort in new experiences. The interesting element is people will allow for challenges as long as these events or flow experiences remain consistent regardless of activity.[9] Without enjoyment acting as a fulfilling element, creativity would just be another job without the thrill. It would be mundane. Without creativity and people “discovering new ways of being and doing, there is no evolution of culture, no progress in thought or feeling.”[10] Unfortunately the conservative view has a difficult time accepting an illogical response as a purpose or goal in life. The emotion involved in creating art seems foreign to them mainly because they have a difficult time seeing beyond the physical properties of the artwork.

Carey surmises the above quandary with the following,

Equally you might say that the question ‘What is a work of art?’ could not have been asked before the late 18th century because until then no works of art existed. I do not mean that objects we now regard as works of art did not exist before that date…Of course they did…Most pre-industrial societies did not even have a word for art as an independent concept. [11]

The concept of literary art and therefore, creativity is a completely modern ideology. Art existed and was important but the level of understanding did not extend that far within society. It may be a fair assumption that modern influences like war, industrialization or advent of technologies, changing familial lifestyles have all changes the concept of art. As a result of the pressures modern times present people seek comfort in forms of art like literature, film, theatre, and museums. For those expressing themselves creatively, this is also a time of utilizing these influences intertextually within his or her mediums. As a result you see common themes and subject matter as well as reinventing the same idea over and over. At times the conservative view will see literature and art as shocking but really it is just evolving with the times and artists are seeking to push the envelope to noticed for hard work. Carey furthers the argument of subjectivity by writing, “When we say a thing is beautiful for us. It is of personal taste.”[12] In today’s world personal taste could mean anything to anyone and change depending on the moment. This concept of personal taste must remain open and flexible to influencing outside forces in order to reflect an evolving multicultural environment.

Overall, creativity experts call for a change in attitude toward creativity if people are going to reap the benefits from available global markets, available capital, personnel effectiveness, and business competence. Success in global markets is going to need a baseline of competence on which to build. This is related to the development of new ideas and concepts that emanates from serious creative thinking. As noted above, the concept of negativity, which can be interpreted as conservatism and complacency, is the biggest enemy of creativity. To think that an educator is doing well or is creative enough is fatal in the long run. One must constantly push the envelope and stand one step ahead of the game.

ANALYSIS OF LITERARY WORKS

It has been explored that literary creativity remains in the mind of the reader and his or her subjective personal taste. One can attribute certain literary traits to creative works as quantifiable measures toward discussion of what makes one work more literary and creative than another. If one defines such actions by words and sounds, using more of a Maybin framework where choice and placement of words comes into play. It is how these words form the content, the hidden power and meaning behind the action in the first place that remains at defining literary concepts. While each literary work analysed for this essay; Steve Wonder’s Happy Birthday and Robert F. Kennedy’s Martin Luther King Junior Speech have qualities that standout as literary and hold one’s inspiration; it is Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday that remains literally true to the literary form of poetry. His song is modern day poetry with its words and sounds forming a tribute and vision.

It is not to say that Robert F. Kennedy’s speech written on the day of Martin Luther King Junior’s assassination is not literature or powerful in nature. It is meant to stir a nation’s consciousness. It does hold power over the American thought process and still remains and important document as an example of America’s turbulent 1960s. This document served to continue a process toward equality for all men and women and remains a pinnacle defining moment in history. Still it is the actual format of a speech that throws people off of it being a piece of literature. Most people would not consider a speech as literature but more of a document, an embodiment of that moment in time. It is in a sense non-fiction, rich in historical content. It displays tools of literary honing. The speech is stoic, powerfully written, simply written without much use of imagery or symbolism. It is very much unlike the works of Martin Luther King Junior and in fact on the other end of spectrum. Robert F. Kennedy’s speech was meant to capture a nation in mourning, not only for the man but also for his dream. What it does do effectively is paint a picture of the existing colour divisions still found in American culture today. Robert F. Kennedy uses a literary device of superimposing an actual piece of classical literature within the body of his speech. What this does is bring light to the fact that a classical poem still has the power to resonate feeling despite being centuries old. The poem’s meaning can still provoke thoughts and offer comfort. The Aeschylus poem allows for a broader scope to the present moment, which will later be an historical turning point for the Civil Rights Movement. It adds depth to a speech that seems solemn and one-dimensional, somewhat lacking inspiration until that point. Kennedy’s speech does not rely upon other literary devices but uses simple words, reflecting the moment precisely. Use of the Aeschylus poem allows the American consciousness even today to see how humanity remains unchanged even during times of great uncertainty. It documents accurately the idea of man’s resistance to change. This literary device is clever and serves to strengthen this underlying feeling of loss and uncertainty. The speech seeps into the backbone of society morals and values but it does not create a piece of literature, not in tone or based upon other literary traits. The speech is more of a commentary, a snippet into a sad period for the American people. Still what the speech does do effectively is allow Robert F. Kennedy to lead the people in feeling sad and hope at the same time. It brings him down off of the pedestal many politicians reside upon and allows him to be among the people. This reflects his inherent qualities as a leader and is what would have made him an excellent president.

What really remains effective for both pieces is how they each capture a sense of history without truly making it obvious. Both pieces pay homage to a man who sought a dream for all people. Though the homage is clear so is the essence of the times or the interpretation of what the Civil Rights Movement represented. What makes this notion more pertinent is the fact that Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday was written in 1980, long after the Civil Rights Movement ended. It is still ingrained in the American collective culture. Both works take into account the impact this period had, not only the man but also on further reaching social issues on how his dream meant change.

Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday is a more literary work because it is written an acceptable form of expression for the modern audience. The song allows people to relate with the words because the form is identifiable by most people. Music represents soul, celebration and a pulse of the people just found inherently within its composition. Songs are something people understand and will listen to over and over. The literary creativity of this song gets down to the bare bones of words and how words work together to create a vision, a feeling. Words work to reflect tone, imagery and hope. The song remains a living celebration of Martin Luther King Junior’s work, dream and life but also as a reminder of how far humanity has come in a few short years. The very fact that Stevie Wonder is a black man and has the right for expression in a public arena is proof enough and very telling. Still it reflects a certain amount of sadness over the fact that this song is just now being written, that society still has colour divide. Stevie Wonder writes as the last verse of the song:

In full remembrance

Of those who lived and died for the oneness of

all people.[13]

This should be more of a question because even today even almost thirty years later there is not oneness within American culture. This speaks of the work yet to be done and is mirrored by his word choices. How the words flow together create an impact for the song and the listener. On the backbone of celebration, there is even disbelief that a song for Martin Luther King Junior has not been written before. Stevie Wonder believes it should not even be a big deal but still this remains a reflection of the value system still inherent in American culture. With lines 1-4, he writes,

You know it doesn’t make much sense

There ought to be a law against

Anyone who takes offense

At a day in your celebration[14]

What is most eloquent here is the use of rhyme that is set up as discrete and not so obvious but also the nature of musical expression. This device continues toward a more literary tactic to set up this work as more creative than the speech. It is the lyrical nature of music that allows imagery to be embedded in a way that multidimensional meanings appear. The song’s meaning may be different each time for the same person but definitely different for each individual. The fact that the song can be heard again and again continues this impact upon society. It resonates still today the dream but also carries into how the dream continues to change the minds of many through such literary works.

CONCLUSION

In closing the above paragraphs have explored the concept that literary art and creativity as artistic are in a direct relationship when it comes to their roles in society as a means of expression. The notion of literature and art is a modern invention born out of the human necessity to find comfort in his or her surroundings. The means of expression vary greatly but also act as a means of self-discovery for those who experience creative flow. One does not have to be an artist in the traditional sense of the word to experience this action but only open to creativity as a valid behaviour. This shift toward acceptance of creativity is borne out of an evolving cultural need that must be reflective of multiple view and cultures. Still there is resistance to change and many people still see artistic and literary creativity as illogical and emotional. The conservative view offers a rather flat and grey vision of literary art and creativity, not seeing the full potential for self-exploration.

END NOTES

Bennis, W & Biederman, P (1997) Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA

Carey, J (2005) What Good Are The Arts? Faber and Faber, London

Carter, R (2004) Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk Routledge, London

Csikszentmihalyi, M (Unknown?) Creativity: Flow and Psychology of Discovery and Invention Harper Perennial, Macquarie University Library.

Freeman, M (1993) Finding The Muse: A Sociopsychological Inquiry into the Conditions of Artistic Creativity Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

Goodman, S & O’Halloran, K (Eds.) (2006) The Art of English: Literary Creativity, Palgrave MacMillan, The Open University.

Kennedy, RF (1968) Robert F Kennedy on the Death of Martin Luther King, speech, Indianapolis viewed 5 September 2008 <http://www.historyplace.com/speeches.rfk.htm

Maybin, J (2006) Writing the self in J. Maybin and J. Swann (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity The Open University, Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan, p. 261-311

Maybin, J (2006) Locating creativity in texts and practices in J. Maybin and J. Swann (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/The Open University, p. 413-455

Mish, F (Ed.) (2004) Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, Springfield, MA

Robbins, S (2001) Organizational Behavior Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ

Sontag, S (1964) Against Interpretation Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York

Swann, J (2006) The art of the everyday in J. Maybin and J. Swann (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/The Open University, p. 3-53

Wonder, S (1980) Happy Birthday on Hotter Than July Motown, Detroit.

1


Footnotes

[1] Sontag, S (1964) p. 3

[2] Freeman, M (1993) p. 37

[3] Maybin, J (2006) p. 415

[4] Mish, F (2004) p. 293

[5] Bennis, W & Biederman, P (1997) p. 15

[6] Carter, R (2004) p. 101

[7] Robbins, S (2001) p. 156

[8] Csikszentmihalyi, M (Unknown) p. 108

[9] Csikszentmihalyi, M (ibid) p. 110

[10] Csikszentmihalyi, M (ibid) p. 110

[11] Carey, J (2005) p. 7

[12] Carey, J (ibid) p. 9

[13] Wonder, S (1980) lines 33-35

[14] Wonder, S (ibid) line 1-4


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