Three Basic Reasons Why Nostalgia Turns Up In Creative Works A Lot

Well, a while before I wrote this article, I happened to read this opinon article about nostalgia. Since I was also still busy preparing last year’s “retro sci-fi” Halloween stories at the time, I thought that I’d look at a few of the reasons why nostalgia tends to turn up in a lot of creative works.

And, more importantly, why it isn’t such a bad thing. However, I seem to be feeling a very strange sense of deja vu whilst writing this article – so, apologies if it’s similar to a previous article.

1) Formative influences: Simply put, most people’s sensibilities and aesthetic preferences are shaped by the creative works that really made an impression on them when they were younger. In other words, everyone is inspired by things from the past in some way or another. This also includes things that were already “old” when writers, artists etc.. were young.

For example, one of the many influences (in addition to things like “Blade Runner“, “Silent Hill 3” etc..) on the “retro sci-fi” short stories I posted last Halloween were American sci-fi novels from the 1950s/60s. However, I wasn’t even alive in the 1950s or the 1960s. I’ve also never been to America either.

But, between about the ages of sixteen and eighteen, I went through a phase of reading cheap second-hand vintage sci-fi novels that I’d found in charity shops and second-hand bookshops. So, these were an influence on my “retro sci-fi” stories from last Halloween, even though they were already “old” when I first discovered them.

The fact of the matter is that, even if you’ve rigourously kept up with “current” culture throughout your life, then things you’ve seen in the past are still going to influence you (because they’ve shaped your preferences and sensibilities). Not only that, even if you somehow manage the unrealistic feat of only taking inspiration from the absolute latest things – then, many of those things have probably also been influenced by stuff from the past.

To quote a very famous old saying, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

2) Emotions: Over the past few years, I’ve been fascinated by the 1990s. I’ve been looking at old TV shows and playing old computer games from the 1990s slightly more than usual. A month or two ago, I spent about a fortnight watching one film from the 1990s every evening. I’ve been doing random research into the fashions of the 1990s. I’ve been watching Youtube videos about 1990s technology. I could go on for a while.

But, why? One of the reasons why the 1990s is so fascinating – and why it’s been such a creative influence on me in recent years – is because of the fact that the stylised, rose-tinted (and somewhat Americanised) version of “the 1990s” that I’ve cobbled together from my research, my vague memories of 1990s Britain and all of the old creative works I’ve encountered is such fun to experience – and to express in a variety of creative ways, like this:

“From The 1990s” By C. A. Brown

“Retro Stage” By C. A. Brown

“1990s Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

“The Ghost Night” By C. A. Brown

If there’s one theme that runs through a lot of creative works from the 1990s, it is optimism about the future. Films back then tended to have a very slightly more “stylised” and “innocent” tone (and really cool lighting too). Creative works could have a bit more personality since internet-based mass culture wasn’t really a thing. I could go on for a while, but this rose-tinted version of the 1990s is somewhere that I want to explore and spend time in. And, well, creating and viewing/reading/playing/listening to creative works is one way of doing this.

In short, nostalgia feels good. And the desire to feel good and/or explore places that don’t exist can be an absolutely brilliant source of creative motivation.

3) Making more of the things we love: One reason why nostalgia can be a major part of many creative works is as a reaction to modern culture. Nostalgic creative works can appear because someone has looked at something from the past and thought “They don’t make things like this any more. I guess that I’ll have to do it myself!”.

For example, although 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk sci-fi and noir sci-fi has made a little bit of a comeback in recent years (eg: the “Ghost In The Shell” remake, the “Blade Runner” sequel, “Technobablyon“, the first couple of episodes of “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” etc..) , finding examples of it used to be a little bit more challenging even a few years ago.

So, once I worked out how to make art in this style, it tends to be something that I return to on at least a semi-regular basis. For example, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited painting that will appear here in a couple of days (which also took a bit of inspiration from 1920s/30s architecture, fashion etc.. too).

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 6th August.

Being able to make things that are a little bit like creative works from the past that you really love, but which don’t seem to be common any more, can be an incredibly strong source of creative motivation.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

6 comments on “Three Basic Reasons Why Nostalgia Turns Up In Creative Works A Lot

  1. Matthew Smith says:

    An interesting treatise. I would argue the ‘trendy cafe’ which is a great name shouldn’t have had WiFi in the 1990s though. There were barely mobile phones by 2000. But the rest is spot on. I do like watching sci-fi or remember games from then set in some utopian or dystopian time actually set in the past now (ie. 2017 – early ghost recon games etc)

    Many happy returns for today. I have an 8 week old listening to aces high on the floor in your honour

    • Matthew Smith says:

      I do get the Irony of ‘WiFi!’ With the exclamation mark though as if it’s novel

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks 🙂 The painting was meant to be of a time traveller from the 1990s appearing in the 2010s (this was meant to be shown via the vaguely “Mad Gadget“-inspired time machine in the background, but it is probably fairly easy to miss LOL!!).

      Yeah, there’s something hilariously awesome about old sci-fi stuff that is set in the modern age. The most surprising example is probably the original “Blade Runner” film, which is set in the distant future of… next year LOL!!!

      Thanks 🙂 Wow 🙂 Congratulations 🙂

      • Matthew Smith says:

        Mad Gadget. How did a newspaper’s supplement generate a video game that I spent so much time on. It was frustratingly hard, but not as frustrating as my initial jealousy at your sound card you had to play it, while I had to content only with the primitive pc speaker. Similar to the rendition card, the earliest of graphic accelerators!

        How did you even run it? I now have an Xbox one for my occasional foray into games (usually Battlefield 1) and my office PC wouldn’t know what to do with it.

      • pekoeblaze says:

        LOL!! Yeah, I’m still amazed that there was a game based on a newspaper cartoon of all things. And, yes, the ridiculous difficulty was quite a shock when I tried to re-play it for the review too. How on earth I completed it when I was less than a third of the age I am now, I’ll never know LOL!!!!

        I can see why having to use the PC speaker must have been really annoying though. Then again, the PC speaker sound effects for some old games like “Duke Nukem” (or should that be “Duke Nukum” LOL!) and “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure” are part of the nostalgic fun LOL!!

        Oh my god, I remember the rendition card really well- especially since I was still using it as late as 2005-6 LOL!!!

        As for getting Mad Gadget to run, if I remember rightly, I used my mid-2000s computer (before it had some hardware changes last year. Actually more of a downgrade than an upgrade, but that’s a long story), the original floppy disc and a DOS emulator called DOSbox. I’m still surprised that the game hasn’t received a modern re-relase though.

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