Well, I was originally going to write a different article for today. In fact, I actually wrote nine paragraphs of it before I decided to abandon it. If anyone is curious about what the article was, it was going to be a relentlessly cynical riposte to a (somewhat ridiculous) opinion article about the sci-fi and fantasy genres I’d read online earlier that day.
My inner cynic was going to have a field day with writing a rebuttal to this article. But then I stopped writing it, because I thought that it would be “too cynical”.
So, instead, I thought that I’d talk about cynicism and about how it can be a powerful source of creative inspiration.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’d argue that all art, literature and all other forms of creativity emerge from cynicism. After all, you have to be at least vaguely dissatisfied with the world around you in order to feel compelled to create something better or more interesting than ordinary everyday life.
Even if you’re just trying to capture the beauty of the natural world on paper or a canvas, you’re probably still going to use artistic licence or make some stylistic decisions in order to make it look slightly better than it actually does. After all, if you just wanted an accurate factual record of the natural scene that you’re trying to paint, you’d take a photo rather than make a painting.
This desire to create better or more interesting versions of the world in our creative works is also what gives all creative works their uniqueness. After all, we all have our own unique ideas of what a “perfect world” would look like.
Whether we try to depict this in our works (eg: like how Gene Roddenberry created an imagined utopian society in “Star Trek”) or whether we subtly use it as a standard to judge the present day by, our ideas about what a “perfect world” looks like is one of the things that makes everyone’s creative works uniquely their own. So, yes, your cynicism is what makes your stories or art unique.
But, more than that, cynicism can be a powerful driving force for creativity for the simple reason that expressing your cynicism through storytelling or art is far more powerful than expressing it through any other means.
Yes, it can be cathartic to talk critically about the world and it’s probably slightly cathartic to write cynical online comments about it too. But, creating a cynical political cartoon or adding a cynical line of dialogue to a story just feels about ten times more cathartic. Turning your cynicism into a physical thing that other people can look at actually makes you feel like your opinions matter and have had an impact on the world. Even if they probably don’t.
Another reason why cynicism can be such a powerful driving force for creativity is because it’s a fundamentally honest type of creativity.
There isn’t too much cynicism in the mainstream media these days. Between pointless Twitter controversies being reported as actual news, between lots of advertising, between mega-budget Hollywood superhero movie remakes, between vacuous celebrity nonsense and other rubbish like that, there’s relatively little cynicism in the mainstream media.
This is why, for example, stand-up comedy is such a popular thing. Stand-up comedians have the ability to honestly express their cynical opinions about the world in a way that people mostly only do in private conversations or, if they’re feeling daring, on social media. Likewise, as long as you do it well (and you don’t preach), you can be a lot more honest about your cynical opinions in fiction than you can be in person.
So, yes, cynicism is not only the root of all creativity but it’s also one of the most powerful emotional drives for creating things.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂