The Oppressed Creativity


a look at the complex city life and creative aspirations

by Pedro Butelli, Romania

If we are to create balanced human beings, capable of entering into world-wide co-operation with all other men of good will — and that is the supreme task of our generation, and the foundation of all its other potential achievements — we must give as much weight to the arousal of the emotions and to the expression of moral and esthetic values as we now give to science, to invention, to practical organization. One without the other is impotent. And values do not come ready-made: they are achieved by a resolute attempt to square the facts of one’s own experience with the historic patterns formed in the past by those who devoted their whole lives to achieving and expressing values. If we are to express the love in our own hearts, we must also understand what love meant to Socrates and Saint Francis, to Dante and Shakespeare, to Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti, to the explorer Shackleton and to the intrepid physicians who deliberately exposed themselves to yellow fever. These historic manifestations of love are not recorded in the day’s newspaper or the current radio program: they are hidden to people who possess only fashionable minds.

Lewis Mumford, Values for Survival (1946)

Lewis Mumford

Lewis Mumford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I couldn’t agree more with what Lewis Mumford once said, that the chief function of a city is, above all else, to “convert biological reproduction into social creativity”. But recently, cities are growing in such a way that creativity is being oppressed by factors that few recognise.

If you live in a big city (especially in poor countries) or a major urban complex where thousands, perhaps millions of people go on with their lives every single day, you have probably noticed those factors too, but not in the particular way that I’m going to explain now. The traffic chaos, the stress, the violence and the pollution are “normal” things that you experience on an everyday basis by simply going to work, or just looking out your window. But you never thought that these problems would control the way you live.

While a city is growing, competition is growing with it. More people are trying hard to become (or stay) independent; often through getting a good job and trying to be successful. But not all of them achieve their goals. That’s where unemployment comes in, as one of the major influences that serve to suppress creativity. When I was young, I believed that I could only follow one path; study hard to go to one of the best universities, study even harder, get a good job, and work hard to keep it. No one ever told me that there were other paths to take; I could start my own business, or try to be better in what I really liked to do and try to make that my job. No, if I were to have taken that path, it couldn’t possibly have gone well and would result in myself becoming a jobless loser, supported by my parents. The fear of not being successful made me stop thinking about the infinite possibilities that life had offered, and forced me to take that path. Study. University. Study. Work.

 Violence is another major factor. I can’t picture anyone talking to a complete stranger without that certain fear of the other person’s intentions. Not in a big city. Whenever someone comes to you and asks something, it doesn’t matter how innocent that question is, that uncomfortable apprehension always stays with you, the uncertainty of the other’s intentions that keeps you alert through every second of the day. That same insecurity makes everyone think twice about meeting new people and being nice to everyone, especially because the city taught you that everyone is a potential hazard.

And that’s just about two of the most common things we see in the cities we all live in, every single day. If you think about it, you probably should end up with the same thought that I had when starting to write this; cities are not places of grand creativity. For sure, in the poorer countries of the world, they are the exact opposite.

But maybe, just maybe, creativity really isn’t being oppressed at all. Perhaps our cities are just going through a phase. Maybe violence, unemployment, traffic, pollution and other urban problems are just changing our urban environment, transforming it and perhaps even making it better each day. Maybe that’s the social creativity that Mumford talked about. Maybe the fear that keeps walking by our side doesn’t control our actions. Maybe it’s just better for us to believe that.

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