I recently discovered a new friend: G.K. Chesterton. A keen observer of humanity, Chesterton was also a masterful storyteller, literary artist, and humorist. Enjoy this passage from his novel, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”:
“Heavy clouds of sunset were closing round the wooden hut, enormous clouds, of which only the corners could be seen in the little window, like purple horns and tails, almost as if some huge monsters were prowling round the place. But the purple was already deepening to dark gray; it would soon be night.”
I see those monsters on occasion, but never thought to name them. Chesterton’s ability to make visual descriptions through words rivals Joseph Conrad’s, and makes the experience of reading his book like watching a movie, only better: the monsters at the windows are a unique construction of each reader’s memories and imagination with Chesterton’s literary descriptions.
More important than imagery, even, is the essential human meaning of the passage. The gathering clouds and creatures herald the coming darkness, a metaphor we all know to be true but to which we avert our eyes. It is made palatable by a shared vision through the intent of the writer. Nifty, huh?
My husband and I were discussing advances in artificial intelligence (AI), and I took the position that AI can never do important creative work. Of course, AI will be smarter than us, better informed, and programmed to mimic human perception, but it will always lack the essential human connection that gives Art meaning. Picasso’s adventure in cubism might be arrived at by an iterative, random process, but it will not be a manifestation of humanity. It will not arise from the synergy of artists, it will not address contemporary dilemmas, and it will not articulate the concerns of the human condition. The work of the AI cubist will not grow organically from the evolution of culture, and so will not impact culture.
An artistic creation by a human person is intentional communication. That intent is an essential part of its purpose, and that is why creative works are so powerful in bringing meaning to human life. The intention is itself evidence of our fundamentally social nature. Even for a writer sitting alone and burning each page he writes, the act of setting words to paper is filled with intent to communicate.
To create with purpose is an honor. If you can write, paint, sing, dance, sew, or build, then do it and do it well. Create to share your unique vantage point on the human condition. Create to advance human culture. Create to prove that you have a voice.