Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. – Pablo Picasso
Very often we talk of creativity, creative instinct, creative thinking and similar other topics. Quite often these words are meant to appreciate an idea, a piece of art, or literary work. Without literally meaning what is being said or without going into the deeper meanings of these words we do sometimes express ourselves in these terms. And perhaps there is no greater joy for an artist, a scientist or a poet than to be described a creative genius. The act of creation itself is rewarding but a word of appreciation adds much to one’s satisfaction.
Let me indicate at the outset that an isolated individual act of creation is not the purpose of this essay. Individual acts of excellence are relatively difficult to analyse, but creative environment over a considerable period of time requires certain conditions to be met and could to some extent be subject of study. When this happens, a whole generation of creative talents flourishes over a wide spectrum of human concern. We do come across different era of creativity in a society. It is this kind of situation that is of concern to us, as it is a product of the social and cultural ethos and the environment. Very often we come across situations where creativity flourishes in almost all disciplines and enriches the system that created it. On the other hand there are examples where in spite of talented individuals not much appears on cards as if nothing of consequence has ever happened.
The act of creation is not an individual isolated affair although one often looks at it as an individual achievement. Success determining criteria in a society are often based on results. An act of creation may be essentially in the form of a long chain. An individual or a group of individuals take up an idea, others develop it over a period of time and finally one individual or a group may bring it to conclusion. Such a person or a group stands at the other end ( the concluding end) of the chain and may get most of the credit. For the casual onlooker such an individual is the ‘genius’, although the contributions of his predecessors in the chain (at the starting and intermediate regions) were no less important. To an extent this may be compared to watching a film and giving almost all appreciation and credit to the actor who is before you undermining the excellent story, the directorial insights and the writer’s expertise. Those who are in the knowhow of the entire chain understand this and remain restrained in their appreciation. I cannot leave the temptation to remind a story to highlight the issue. The king of a country could not find a suitable match for his daughter, as the royal pride forbade her from marrying anyone who was not a match to her in beauty and in riches. It was difficult to find a person who possessed both these qualities. One day someone came up with a bright plan which was somewhat on these lines – let all young bachelors of the land contribute one week’s earning to create a fund. Next draw a lottery to choose the lucky person from all young bachelors. Let this lucky person own all that money and marry the princess. That scheme worked as per plan. When the entire people were celebrating and congratulating the lucky winner, the king was roaming the streets trying to find the person who gave the idea.
One can find several examples where chains of creativity were existent in all areas of human interest and at all times. Talking about his achievements Isaac Newton has expressed the situation in these words: ‘I could achieve this because I was standing on the shoulders of others.’ How true it is, we are all standing on the shoulders of others. I often consider a scenario where people want to have a view on the other side of the high wall. There being nothing to climb on to have the view they decide to make a vertical chain, one standing on the shoulder of the other till the man on top can get the view and share with others his information. The person who could get the view in this example could not be given all the credit but that is generally what happens.
Creativity does not grow in vacuum. It is in most cases a product of environment, and the role of individuals is like that of blocks in the chain. It is the result of a deep interaction between individuals and social milieu, and whenever this interaction takes a healthy shape, a self-amplifying chain-reaction grows. Whenever such a situation arises a “creative era” is clearly perceptible in the process of cultural transformation of a society.
The Circles of Creativity
One can envisage the whole scenario in terms of a simple model. Let us imagine two concentric circles and label them as inner and outer circles. The common centre of the circles is where the creator is located at a time and in a particular context. The inner circle (or the first) is inhabited by the contemporaries of the creator who are in a position to evaluate, understand and analyse the work. On another occasion some of these individuals from the inner circle may take the centre stage. A close dynamic interaction between the centre and the inner circle is the first step to building a healthy environment. However, in addition to this the outer or the second circle which is composed of the enlightened reader or viewer is equally important. This group can very well appreciate the work even though for an extensive and detailed understanding it may at times look towards the comments and clarifications from the inner circle. The strength of the outer circle can determine the nature of evolution of the environment in the particular context. In case we are talking of the literature then the nature of the creative environment is determined by the quality as well as the size of the outer circle. The quality as well as size of the outer circles is important as a critical size can provide the capacity to sustain any creative activity. If there are few readers and those too are not in the habit of buying books then the creative genius would remain largely unnoticed. If the publisher incurs a loss then next time he would be discouraged to produce a quality work that does not sell. He will then either close the publishing business or make a compromise on quality. This is about the ‘Economics of Creativity’. A creative genius in absence of healthy inner and outer circles would most likely remain unknown.
English literature has a lot of variety, as also the depth. There are writers of substance in diverse arena who have done well. However, it was not only their individual talent but the wide readership (n a strong second circle) that has been playing a significant part in the act. There are all kinds of readers of all tastes. People try to buy books and this encourages more publishers and authors. Some of the work published may not be of high quality, and only such work will survive that is of quality and substance. However, every author is likely to get a chance to face the scrutiny of the readers. This is like a process of hit and trial. In India the situation is not that conducive. Looking at the population of the country the number of books sold in any language is not significant. Howsoever good an author, he or she could not survive only on the basis of his or her writing. Usually it is the name that sells and not exactly the work. Even though English is widely read and appreciated all over the country Indian English writers too remain mostly unknown or at best known to a small elite group. Only those authors who are already well established could reach out to a sizeable population among readers. Few online e-journals (Indian Ruminations and India Muse, for example) have been making sincere efforts to address the problem. That is a welcome sign and may help in strengthening the two circles of creativity. However, hard copy publishing has its own charm.
Creativity (barring individual exceptions) is thus an outcome of the dynamic relationship between individuals and social milieu, and is itself dynamic. It cannot and should not be bounded and evaluated by well defined and rigid outlines and norms. However, it requires certain conditions to be met if it has to flourish on a sizeable scale beyond the domain of individual excellence. As outlined earlier the second circle is not as strong as it should have been in many Indian languages taking into account the population. Among Indian languages it is not uniform although. Hindi is spoken by around 500 million people but the circulation and publication of journals and magazines and books is much below the desired level. This is somewhat better for English literature but there too Indian English writers do not easily get access to publishing and to readership.
There are other factors that may have a bearing on these issues. Creation and sustaining long chains requires a coordination which comes from a team work. It is quite like a relay race. I run up to a distance and then hand over my torch to the other person just behind me. He or she then runs a certain distance and hands over the mantle to the next. This requires not only proper coordination in the act of transferring the responsibility it also requires an inherent trust in the other person’s integrity. It also requires an inherent trust in credit sharing norms and honesty. In essence a good exercise in ‘social engineering’ techniques could achieve which otherwise would remain in unnoticed and the background.
The second circle is therefore of immense value, and if it is strong enough, the first circle by default will become viable making a chain reaction in space and time possible. In Indian context such an era of creativity could be clearly witnessed during the initial decades of the twentieth century whose centre could be located around Kolkata. The contributors to the creative chain came from distant regions. This creative era in India saw significant contributions in literary activities. Besides this music and film making also saw an unprecedented growth. Sciences too attracted people from all over the country and Raman’s
Nobel Prize winning work was accomplished there. Satyendra Nath Bose’s paper with Albert Einstein brought forth the theoretical infra- structure of Bose-Einstein Statistics. Today one group of quantum particles is labeled a ‘Boson’ and the latest to be discovered is Higgs Boson, often referred to as the God Particle. Meghnad Saha, K S Krishnan, Jagdish Chandra Bose – it was certainly India’s Golden Age in creativity. At a distant place Ramanujan made significant contributions to the Number Theory in mathematics. The reason for the era of intense activity in Indian physics was primarily due to the fact that developments in the subject had come to the critical stage all over the world and things started happening. Going back to the example of the long chain of creativity these scientists were standing at the second or concluding end of the chain. The welcome thing was that there were people who in spite of very few facilities kept themselves in the knowhow of the happenings around, and kept the flame burning.
It is true that such era do not continue indefinitely. However, for a country of our size we expected more frequent happenings of that kind. I am of the opinion that whatever be the detailed reasons the second circle comprising reading and appreciating public is somehow weakened. Things on an average may be slightly better in some parts especially the southern region. It is up to us to analyse the situation objectively and take corrective measures.
The onset of information revolution has made an impact on the entire theme. Readership is still very important and an effective feedback from readers will still remain an important factor in determining the nature of creativity and related matters. In the context of Indian writing in English there are positive signs and the net effect of IT revolution will be to get access of a larger readership. However, the situation is not that rosy from the point of view of Indian languages which like other languages all over the world will have to face a negative impact and undesirable brunt of Information Technology revolution and globalization. The efforts of websites such as Indian Ruminations and Muse India have been noteworthy in that they have been able to attract authors as also readers to a sizeable proportion although it is still falling short. A look into the entire thing shows a relatively weak second circle which is still below the required critical size. There has been a steady decline in reading habit among the youth. It is time to take a deeper look into the reasons and initiate small but purposeful corrective steps.