Richard Taylor on the Creative Life
Real creativity is not only in art
8 minutes read - 1602 words
Richard Taylor (1919–2003) thought that it’s creativity that makes us feel happy and fulfilled. According to Taylor, a life lived without exercising one’s creativity is a wasted life.
A tale of two farmers
Richard Taylor thinks that the ultimate goal of human life is to be creative. By this he means, following Aristotle, that we should exercise our abilities and skills in such a way that we live an original, challenging and interesting life. People who don’t do that are missing the very point of being alive and waste their one opportunity to reach true happiness.
Consider two farmers: The first one does not know anything about farming, but he has a book with all the solutions to all possible problems that can appear while farming. When there is a problem, he looks it up in the book and does exactly what it says. He never thinks, he never questions the book’s advice. And that’s good, because the book is a marvellous work of deep and useful expertise, and the farm has been flourishing for years because of it.
A creative life, Taylor think, does not mean that one has to be an artist.
The other farmer does not have such a book. Instead, he always runs around the farm with an old toolbox, with pieces of string and rolls of tape and whatever else seems useful, trying to diagnose and fix things by himself. In the beginning, he had no idea what he was doing, but over the years he has learned a bit about plants and now he can deal with most problems that he encounters daily on his farm. If some new issue comes along, he’ll study it, try various remedies out, and see what works. Sometimes plants will die with his method, but after a while, he’ll learn how to fix the problems.
In the long run, both farms manage to run with reasonable success and, let’s assume, both men work about the same number of hours per day and earn roughly the same income from their farms.
But here comes the question: which of the two would you think is a happier man?
Or, to put it another way, which one would you like to be?
Most of us would probably prefer to be the second farmer. As long as his method is equally successful as the first’s, we feel that there is some value in experimenting, in finding things out for ourselves, in learning and, finally, in being proud of oneself when a remedy works and a problem has been successfully fixed.
The life of the farmer with the book looks, in contrast, mind-numbingly dull. To run around all day following to the letter the instructions one is given by a book, without ever understanding any of it, without being able to experiment or try new ideas out, seems somewhat like work at a factory assembly line. Where’s the fun in that?
But why exactly would we think that the farmer without the book is happier? What, precisely, is the source of his happiness?
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What is a creative life?
Richard Taylor (1919–2003), philosophy professor at Rochester
, thought that it’s creativity that makes us feel happy and fulfilled. Human beings, he wrote, are creative beings, and for humans to function fully as human beings, they must be given the opportunity to exercise this creativity in their lives, as much and as often as possible.
But a creative life, he said, does not mean that one has to be an artist. For Taylor, creativity is in all the little decisions and actions that make up our everyday lives. Whenever I do anything, I have the choice: to do it in an interesting, challenging, personal, deeply satisfying way, as part of my creative life; or to do what everybody else does and be done with it, much like the farmer with the problem-solving book.
Every single day, we encounter dozens of choices, dozens of opportunities to turn around our lives, to do something thrilling and interesting, and to be creative and awesome.
Take one random bit of boring daily drudgery: lunch at your workplace canteen. At the same time like everyone else you get up from your desk, walk down to the canteen, pick up a tray of something vaguely looking like fingers wrapped in newspaper, smother it in ketchup to make it edible and swallow it before you think too much about what it might be. Not the way to an awesome life, isn’t it?
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s get creative!
Live every moment creatively
You could take your three best friends from the office with you. You’d order four different dishes and then mix and share the bits and pieces to create new combinations. You could bring something easy to eat from home, like a sandwich with your favourite toppings, and eat it at your desk. You could pop out of the office and eat at a shop down the street. Or perhaps there’s a street vendor with something Indian that looks interesting and that you’ve never dared to try before? You could cook something nice yourself the previous evening and invite your other three friends to share it with you. You could rotate, one of you cooking every four days, and all would have homemade food to eat all week. You could plant some lettuce and a tomato plant in a box on your balcony or windowsill and have fresh lettuce to eat a few weeks later.
A comprehensive overview of Erich Fromm’s philosophy of happiness. We discuss his life, his ideas and his main works, both in their historical context and how they are still relevant for us today.
You could use the weekend to go fishing, and bonus points if you have a family and take the kids along. Catch yourself a nice fish and eat that over the week. Scale it, clean it, and fry it yourself. Learn how to do it. Have fun! If you don’t know how to do that, research it. Youtube is full of advice on every crazy hobby. Beats Netflix and the fifth rewatching of that series that you already know by heart. Or, yet another possibility: fast for a day. Don’t eat at all. See how it feels. Take notes of the experience.
The same goes for your next holiday. You can buy that packaged tour that will cover five countries in three days, with stops at the Acropolis, the Pyramids and the Eiffel tower, where everyone will take exactly the same selfie as everyone else, while professional pictures a hundred times better are available for free all over the Internet. Sound familiar?
“There are people whose every day is very much like the one just lived. They are essentially people without personal biographies except for the events which the mere passage of time thrusts upon them.” — Richard Taylor
Or, instead of doing that, you could plan your holiday yourself. Go somewhere you didn’t even know existed. Point, eyes closed, at a map and go there. Read up on the history and culture of the place. Learn a few words in the local language and make a point of using them on everyone you’ll meet. Read authors from that country and learn how they see the world. What’s the defining novel, the defining poem of the place? Look up the food, go to local restaurants and challenge yourself to order something new every day. Get to meet the people who live there.
Connect with locals through the Internet in advance, then go find them and talk with them about their lives. And finally, keep a diary of everything you have seen, experienced and learned. With this, you’ll be able to look back at this experience and derive a world of fun and satisfaction from it for years to come. The others, those who took the tour package, will just have one blurry picture of the Eiffel tower (its top cut off) to show for ten times the expense.
Richard Taylor writes: “There are people whose every day is very much like the one just lived. They are essentially people without personal biographies except for the events which the mere passage of time thrusts upon them. In this they are like animals, each of whose lives is almost indistinguishable from others of its species, simply duplicating those of the generations before it.”
In his book “The Conquest of Happiness”, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) presents a theory of happiness that is broadly Aristotelian. Russell thinks that what makes us happy is an active life, directed by a deep and sustained interest in the world.