Creative Consumption

Sometimes it seems like all we do is buy and consume, buy and consume.  We burn gas on our long, stressful commutes.  Pick up takeout for lunch and bolt it down at our desks while we stare at our preferred news outlet’s website.  Grab a pizza on the way home – more food that we took no part in creating – and spend the evening staring at the television, letting messages sink into our brain without any help or hindrance from us.  As the economy spirals further out of control and the world teeters on the brink of complete insanity every day – and the bad news, always the bad news – it’s easy to understand why people want to create things with their hands.

There has been a resurgence in handicraft.  DIY blogs are exploding in popularity as people look for ways to save money and create a personal space in their homes.  The popularity of crafts like knitting and of art like photography is soaring, and it seems everyone and their mom wants to grow a garden – wants to get their hands dirty and work the earth and nurture something that wouldn’t be there without them.  When you spend all day consuming, sometimes you just want to create.  You want to feel real and connected and grounded again, by using your hands as they were meant to be used.

There are plenty of ways that I can be creative.  I cook – healthy meals and snacks for hubby and myself – and bake yummy treats to fatten up hubby’s coworkers.  (I don’t think they mind.)  I write, both here and offline (in journals and other projects).  I do decorating projects at home, working on making personal space for hubby and me to unwind and relax.  And, although I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, I knit.  (I tend to run hot and cold on knitting and I usually lose focus before completing a project, which is why I don’t blog about my creations – they are usually unfinished and/or riddled with mistakes.)

Yet I also do plenty of consuming.  As a reader, I spend hours each week downloading messages from a printed page to my brain.  I don’t tend to be one for zoning in front of the television for large chunks of each evening, but that doesn’t mean I’m not taking in more information than I’m putting out.  I read, on average, two books each week.  I don’t write two books’ worth of blog posts each week, for sure.  I’m wordy – but not that wordy.  So my choice of consumption methods might be a little more old-school (flipping pages, rather than channels).  Does that make me any less of a consumer of information?  Well, no.

Still, I don’t feel that by reading as voraciously as I do, I’m sacrificing my place in the creative process.  After mulling it over, I’ve concluded that I view certain acts of consumption – like reading a book (which I didn’t write), listening to a song (which I didn’t record) or playing a piano sonata (which I didn’t compose) – as acts of creativity.  When I read a book, yes, I take in the messages that the author is attempting to convey; or at least I do if I’m reading closely.  But I don’t approach a book in a vacuum.  I bring my own perspectives to each reading experience.  I endow characters with personality points and physical traits that might not be written in black and white, but that come from my own experience and fit with the character as I have read him or her.  I relate to books in a way that is completely unique because it’s based on my own accumulated knowledge over 30 years.  You do the same thing, when you read.

You might read a book and have a completely different response than I would have, because we’re approaching the same book from different perspectives, different world-views.  And that is creative.  That is adding to the information out there in the world – especially when we talk about our perspectives.  But even if I don’t talk about a book – even if I just pause and think a new thought, and never voice it, that’s still creative.  That’s still a thought that wouldn’t have been thought if I hadn’t opened this particular book and applied my own personality and experience to the words inside.

It’s not just reading, either.  When you listen to a song (pop, classical, or otherwise) or look at a painting or photograph, your experience (your consumption) of that art is informed by your own experience and personality.  So you’re not the musician or the painter – you’re still part of the creative process; you’re the “appreciator.”  I simply can’t view myself or anyone else as dumb information receptacles.  My understanding and appreciation of a piece of art or music (whether I’m listening to or playing the music – it’s still someone else’s score) is unique to me.  Without me, it would be a different piece.

And that makes all the difference to me.  I can curl up with a book on my sofa and feel like I’m still creating something.  I may not be working with my hands, cooking or baking or gardening, but I’m still creating.  I’m creating feelings, experiences, and unique perspectives – me and my books.  Or music, or paintings, or what-have-you.  By reading/viewing/listening critically and thinking intelligently, by letting myself become emotionally involved in a plot or with a character, I am actively participating in the act of creating.

Do you view reading (or other information consumption) as a creative act?

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