Saturday, July 19, 2008

Consumption v. Creation: The Debate Rages On

The ways one can choose to spend his leisure time are many and varied. How one spends these hours can be an insightful indication of one’s personality—drinking, sleeping, watching TV, and exercising are all possible options, and each says something very specific about the person who selects that activity. Exercising for me is essential, and drinking is generally unappealing. Beyond this, I face a fundamental decision about how to enjoy my free time: simply put, I can produce culture or consume it.

Undoubtedly consuming culture is the easier of the two. Watching TV or movies, reading books or magazines, or surfing the web are all ways I might consume the fruits of others’ creative labors. Doing so is entertaining and educational, and gives me new insights into the human condition and my place in the world. But it is also time-consuming, and takes time away from producing content myself. What’s more, to really understand a good piece of art (be it filmed or written), one should experience it multiple times. This is especially true for lengthy and/or intricate works of fiction with several layers of symbolism and metaphor, like the works of Vonnegut, Marquez, and Tolstoy. But to enjoy a work by one of these men more than once is nearly unthinkable; with so much else to discover and accomplish, how can one find the time to really delve into something?

On the other hand, I have aspirations to learn web design and video editing, to start building websites and making short films. I’d also like to write a screenplay, as well as continue refining plans I have for various businesses and products. But what should the balance of these activities be? Producing culture, of course, is not independent of consuming it; indeed, inspiration by definition emerges from the absorption of others’ ideas. Creativity does not exist in a vacuum—it feeds off itself, constantly spawning new variations on old themes. To favor creation over consumption, to ignore the history of human artistic output, is to do a disservice to oneself. You risk repeating trite tropes, as well as miss out on a treasure-trove of inspiration.

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