When it comes to enjoying the guilty pleasures of life, creative expressionists are more often than not chief among sinners. In fact, if history were to be our witness, it would be evident that creativity has always had an undeniable link with overindulgence. Drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll are invariably cited as the creative impetus for the psychedelic music and culture of the 60’s and 70’s. Furthermore, some of the richest creative culture and philosophical ingenuity of the Eurasian heritage is a product of Ancient Greece, a federation of city-states well known for their debauchery, homosexuality, and humanism. Much in the same way that creative genius has been linked to mental illness, creativity thrives on sin.
“Why is sinning necessary for creativity?”, you might wonder. This is because the progressive nature of creativity often requires you to “strike against the flow, that the river [of life] might be known.” To sin means to violate the established rules of morality, religion or whatever society has decided to recognize as “wrong.” Creativity, similarly, means going against conventional thought and breaking free of the status quo to creatie something new, revolutionary, sometimes even shocking but, nonetheless, beautiful.
Creativity, like everything else, has a price. To create a new tomorrow, one must bury the past. To live a life of altruism and dedicate yourself to the well-being of others, you must sacrifice your own ego. Simiarly, to create art, you must have the courage to explore all of the facets of human nature, even those that we are ashamed of, even those that we would like to hide. A truly inspiring creative masterpiece often entails the expression of greed, suffering, desperation, and a host of negative emotions normally reserved for what might otherwise be considered “evil.” William Shakespeare knew this all too well, and his works demonstrate the ironic and unwittingly paradoxical union of love, hatred, greed, enmity, joy, passion, and desperation, all enveloped in the fantastical romanticism that has made Shakespeare one of the greatest creative writers of all time.
Both “sinning” and creativity are essential to change and, as such, to progress. This was particularly evident in the Dark Ages, when the creative energies of the world were suppressed or purged by the Catholic church under the rule of the “Holy Roman Empire” — which , as the 17th century philosopher Voltaire famously and ironically noted, was “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.” With the stringent and suppressive religious standards of 10th century Catholicism given equal authority to the law, all the guilty pleasures went out the window, and creative expression was all but annihilated. The paintings became dull and flat, music formulaic, and writing– well, writing got hit the worst by far! The written word became nearly non-existent during the Dark Ages (because all writing except authorized propaganda and canon were forbidden), this being the principal reason why most writing about the Dark Ages is written in retrospect, and based mostly on paleontological evidence, and even then, written only after the Renaissance.
The Renaissance was the greatest intellectual and creative revival in the history of Western Europe, and was marked by an extreme excess of sin. All of the things that the theocracy of the Holy Roman Empire forbade– drinking, gambling, sexual promiscuity, music, dancing– creative pleasures of all kinds ran rampant in the Renaissance. This momentous “backsliding” provided the necessary creative leverage to transform Europe from the dark, desolate, and intellectually impoverished culture it was, to one of the world’s greatest centers of cultural enrichment and academic research.
Eventually, the notoriously hard-headed Catholic church recognized the error of its ways, even going so far as to hypocritically offer “indulgences” (the Catholic equivalent of “get-out-of-Hell-free cards”), to save face (and to make more money!) This kind of irony really serves to demonstrate the importance of “sin” not only for personal creativity, but also for the creative and intellectual health of the world!
This post is part of the Sublimating Sin series.