In a recent post on the import of biographical context, and Proust’s negating of it in his essay Against St. Beuve, I conclude with the fairly simplistic, but true observation that "Text and the social life of the author may never touch in Proust’s cork-lined world, but they do, I’d say, in the normal, communal one in which most authors and people live. It seems to me that the more facts one can solicit in the search for truth, the better one’s chances of finding it."
The essence of art, the essence of true creativity, what makes Proust Proust and Bach Bach is, according to Proust, something that can never be found in those facts about an artist. It is something that an individual creates as if ex nihilo… That is why a "crude" person can create a sublime art, and a most refined be sterile…
He continues: "How can we approach this essence and how might it help us in this destitute time? As I recovered from my recent misfortune on a country road, these questions became less pretentious and more urgent."
What makes Proust Proust? What is the irreducible in art? as Mark Thwaite asks in a comment on the same post…
…I think the problem we run into here is that, okay, great artists have unique gifts and talents…God given, innate. Svetlana’s remark has me recalling Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s fictitious Amadeus…the pain he felt, knowing, unlike the rest of the court, that Mozart was a true genius despite being a crude little buffoon.
Surely, the ‘essence’ that makes Bach Bach, Proust Proust etc., although obviously important, is something beyond description, or comprehension. It is in fact a tautology, a conversational cul-de-sac, a dead end just as the wholly subjective appreciation of art is…the ‘I know what I like’ thought stopper.
As soon as you try to define what the essence of creativity is, some sort of context or comparison is required if you want any interesting discussion. Why did Picasso depict women in such ugly, distorted ways in his paintings? Because Picasso is Picasso? Or because he treated women like tissues…soiling and discarding them in his wake. As Jean-Paul Crespelle writes in his book Picasso and his Women:”…Just as he kept old matchboxes or pencil stubs, so he kept his old mistresses ready in hand. Just in case…” Which is the more interesting response?
It’s all very well to ask big questions about the essence of creativity, or Why Fiction is, for that matter; pondering them can be valuable. But after a while, when it becomes evident that these questions lack answers, or are answerable only self referentially, it all becomes a little tiresome. Especially given that artists themselves, in the case of creativity, rarely know how their original ideas arise. It’s all a big mystery.