Plenitude and the creative process

A few years ago, I bought some paint.  Gauche to be exact.  I wasn’t sure what had gotten into me: I didn’t know how to paint.  And although I generally consider myself to be creative, I did not consider myself very artistic.  But that day, I just felt like painting.

So, standing in the aisle of the local craft store, I choose gauche.  Gauche is a forgiving and transforming medium, a mix between a watercolor paint and a heavier opaque paint.  The beauty of gauche comes from its ability to transform; the amount of water determines how far you can pull the paint across the page and how translucent it becomes, making gauche highly respondent to creative whims.

The first thing I decided to paint was a decidedly silly portrait of my then-fiance.  I enjoyed the process of mixing and layering paint, with very little skill or strategy or knowledge of fine art.  But somewhere in the middle of this creative venture, I asked myself – what is this for?  And I suddenly felt a weird sense of guilt… why was I using good resources (in this case, my mid-tier gauche) on something silly that had no purpose and wasn’t even beautiful?  I was consuming something to create nothing of real value.

I told myself it wasn’t meaningless; creative pursuits are worthy productions in themselves.  But I struggled to accept that.  I felt wasteful.

I decided to rationalize my new found pastime with a specific purpose.  And that’s what led me to hand-painting 200 invitations for my then-upcoming wedding.  With practice, I created a simple olive branch motif which would easily be replicated over and over.  By the nature of handpainting, each invitation turned out uniquely different.


In the midst of a stressful season, handpainting wedding invitations became a creative refuge.  I could enjoy the process of producing something beautiful that was also meant to be (at least marginally) useful.  While I found a small success

I’m currently reading a couple of books on the topic of ‘Plenitude’ (here and here).  Plenitude describes the difficult relationship our Western society faces: we technically have plenty of things (even if they aren’t distributed well, but that’s another topic), but there is an eternal desire to produce more things because producing things makes us happy.

This leads me to believe that in an age where we should be concerned with the effects of having plenty (or just plain too much), the process of making new things can get a bad rep, unfairly.  Production and consumption are not dirty words, like a contorted type of minimalism may make them out to be.   But how do we balance plenitude with the very nature of the creative process, which brings about more things?

Does everything we create have to have value?  Who determines value?  Who gets to benefit in order for something to bear the title ‘valuable’?

This is complicated stuff.  I propose a level of thoughtfulness in all production and consumption.  You don’t even have to justify your reasons to anyone else; the mere process of slowing down to bring a level of consciousness to our creations and our consumptions should suffice for now.

More questions than answers swirl around my head at this point.  To be revisited…

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