Last week in Limerick, Ireland, I met the Irish artist Annemarie Bourke at her gallery. After looking at the paintings, I sat for a few minutes with Annemarie on a couch in the gallery. I had told her that I’m a writer, so we talked about the need we have to create and what it is like to have that compulsion.
For this blog, I want to expand beyond my usual range of topics and talk about creativity as a human idea. Creativity in the sense of making things that do not have to exist and have no practical purpose is completely unique to humans and is one of the things that makes us different from the animals. I’ll cite things I saw in Ireland (in the cities of Limerick and Galway) and in Poland (in Warsaw and a village called Pułtusk), and then I’ll consider what we can draw from those examples.
In Limerick there is the very fine Hunt Museum, with a collection emphasizing medieval objects. I saw things of great imagination and beauty, objects originating out of a pure need to create, to make something where nothing was, such as carving a walrus tusk into a religious figure. As an utterly different form of creativity in Limerick, I also found a nice little pub near the River Shannon where musicians come every evening to play traditional Irish music and even do a little of that Irish stamp dancing with the arms held stiff by the side.
The day I caught a bus up to Galway, all of Ireland was having Culture Night, when all over the country there were so many events scheduled that booklets were put out (I saw the one just for Galway), and it was impossible to know what to go to, to choose from such riches.
As part of Culture Night, I heard three musicians play in an old church, the next day I heard a variety of musicians—string quartet, classical guitar, and Irish traditional—in three different sessions at the city museum, and later that evening in a pub packed with pint drinkers, including happy David with a glass of Guinness in hand, local musicians filled the place with fiddle and banjo and drum. Another night in Galway I went to a tiny theater to see one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, called “Helen and I”, with four actors, surrounded by the audience, slowly revealing craziness and family secrets.
But let’s jump rather exotically to Warsaw, Poland, to the National Museum, where my friend and I saw many things, but I particularly liked the 19th century Polish paintings. For me the most interesting and darkest painter is Jacek Malczewski (pronounced Malchevsky). We also saw a huge exhibition of medieval paintings. Years ago I found such paintings boring, but when you really start to look at them, you see Saint This and Saint That doing their holy thing, and then you look down in a corner and think “Uhh, what’s that monkey doing there?” Even in the Middle Ages the playful imagination of the painter would sometimes come through.
Reminding me somewhat of the medieval items in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, I saw pots in the small Polish town of Pułtusk (a town where Napolean stayed several days). In a very old tower we climbed up a dangerous set of stairs from floor to floor, looking at exhibits. Items were from local archaeological digs, and in a set of clay jars I saw that the potters had decorated with an incised pattern mashed into the wet clay before firing. The pattern had no functional purpose, but was purely decorative, a medieval Polish example of people who wanted to express something just for the creativity of it
And of course I could talk about writing: in Limerick I bought a book by a local Limerick writer (Kate O’Brien), in Galway on Culture Night I went to a bookstore and heard local poets read from their work, and in Poland I saw statues of writers.
In this brief blog I’m just brushing across the surface of what I actually could describe, but even of the things I’ve mentioned, we can categorize various types of creation: 1) creating aesthetically appealing objects, 2) using sounds for pleasing emotional effects in music, 3) applying colors to surfaces to create images in paintings, 4) using words plus sounds in poetry, 5) using words plus the body and objects to create the illusion of real people in theater, 6) using words alone to create ideas in the mind.
In terms of materials and purpose, these are all extremely different, but they illustrate the ways humans have used both our bodies and the materials around us to create art. Creativity is being human, and through art we touch each other, whether standing next to strangers smiling at one another listening to the music, or looking at a painting and feeling the sadness of someone in another culture hundreds of years earlier.
Everyone creates. Have you doodled on paper, built a sand castle, or arranged flowers in a vase? This is hopeful. If the human race ever becomes civilized, it will happen through art. Nothing else will do it.
One last thing: In addition to the painter Annemarie Bourke, who I met in Limerick, and the local Limerick writer Kate O’Brien, who I bought a book by, I went to Limerick in the first place because I love the band The Cranberries, and they come from Limerick. But I didn’t see them.