Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Fountainhead of Human Creativity

I'll be working to integrate more of the primary work into my analysis, but for now, this is the final draft of the research paper that I wrote for my digital literacy class.

The Fountainhead of Human Creativity

          From the very genesis of recorded history, mankind has sought to create, to bring his thoughts into reality and to leave his indelible mark upon the world around him. For some civilizations, that has meant erecting massive monuments to gods and men; others preserved their ideas and culture through literature– within epics and songs and the tales of the past. In the modern, globalized era, however, the rules of creativity are changing. Especially over the last few decades, the desire to create has taken on new forms as the Internet and other digital media resources have made accessible the realms of thought and creativity for the world as a whole. Ayn Rand, in her landmark novel, The Fountainhead, investigates the concept of creativity, championing the individual creative ideal and warning against the collectivization of creative thought. Rand died years before the invention of the Internet and a great many other modern digital resources, yet her commentary on creativity and thought abide today as a lasting monument to the human spirit of creativity. A thoughtful study of digital media through the lens of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead clearly reveals the value of independent creativity and unveils digital media's role in providing a new and living medium through which creative thought may find expression.

          The value of digital media in the creative process has been debated often in academic spheres, and there yet remains a dichotomy between those advocating collectivism and those of an individualist persuasion. Doctors Kylie Peppler and Maria Solomou of Indiana University, in their study of creativity through online, social learning spheres, propose that creativity manifests itself as a broad, “socially determined process.” Peppler, in commenting on a blog post by the author, states, “Creativity is really about learning more about what has been done and posing something new from your unique vantage point...” While social interaction certainly plays a role in the formation of an individual creator's ideas, this concept of collective creativity represents a false paradigm and discords sharply with the individualistic ideas presented in Rand's work. Creative progress finds its footings in the efforts of individuals rather than those of a collective and unified body. Each individual creative endeavor represents the labors and strivings of a single person or a small group of individuals, and collaborative projects are simply the summation of these individual efforts (Shoshana Milgram Knapp, personal communication, May 25, 2012). Many modern scholars, like Alan Kirby of Oxford University, have spoken out sharply against the idea of collective creativity, stating that globalization and the development of social media have caused much of modern 'creativity' to become “unreal, trite, vapid, conformist, consumerist, meaningless and brainless.” Others have taken a different approach in their denunciation of the ideal of joint creativity. William Thomas, for example, a Randian scholar associated with the Atlas Society, proposes that while more interaction is possible through the medium of the Internet, creativity itself is actually isolated and individualized as part of the process (personal communication, June 2, 2012). The value of creativity as a whole, then, rests in the potential of individuals to create and innovate.

          Ayn Rand's ideological foundation finds its abode within this individualistic realm of thought. In The Fountainhead, Rand presents the oppositional creative ideologies of Howard Roark and Peter Keating and in so doing provides a contrast that leads the reader to a fuller understanding of the value of individual thought and creation. Expelled from his architectural academy for non-adherence to classical forms and styles, Roark embodies the independent fire of creativity and innovation. As such, he remains, throughout the novel, an entity unto himself– a brilliant and unapologetic creator. Keating, on the other hand, relinquishes his innate sense of creativity in exchange for social acceptance, rehashing the same antiquated styles and passing off Roark's brilliant designs for his own when a real bit of innovation is necessary. These oppositional, almost one-dimensional characters can be related to two extremes within the online world: while a great many employ digital media to create and innovate, others use it simply to recycle existing memes and ideas, passing them off as their own in the pursuit of the ever-elusive “Likes” and +1's (Fand 488). Steven Mallory, a lesser character in The Fountainhead, recognizes at one point the fallen state of those who embrace this latter, attention-hungry and hollow creative ideal, stating that in following after it they “kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict–and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unrevered or unbetrayed; as if there had never been any entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass” (452). Rand's contrast is too polarized, too black-and-white to represent the span and production of creativity, yet her argument holds true: a person may, by virtue of his own integrity and dedication, come to discover his creative identity and make a gift to humanity through the works that he brings to life (Young). If, as author Joyce Carol Oates writes, art constitutes “a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind,” a person, though perhaps inspired by the creators whom he emulates, will not be able to fully discover his creative potential until he steps beyond his safeguards of second-hand creativity.

          Scholars of digital literacy sometimes receive this idea of personal aspiration and discovery in creation as foolishness, painting the independent creator as a creature of the past, a dying breed. Others, like James Montmarquet, a Randian scholar from Tennessee State University, conversely declare the need to reclaim the independent creative ideal. In his article, “Prometheus: Rand's Epic of Creation,” Montmarquet describes the state of the so-called 'Promethean creator' as that of an “endangered species,” a being that because of the pressures of conformity and orthodoxy placed upon him, trembles on the brink of extinction. Digital media, however, offers a new promise and a haven for the creative self, granting access to a rich habitat wherein the independent creator can develop his ideas and grow in his ability to convey meaning through creation. Recent years have seen the genesis of new forms of expression and renewed courage to create as the Internet has injected life into a dying ideal. If, in fact, there remains a hope for the Promethean or Roarkian creator, if there is to be new life for the independent creative ideal, then it courses through the veins of digital media. Indeed, the Internet, in rekindling the dying embers of creativity and original thought, has become a veritable fountainhead of creative expression, a well of living water to quench creation's thirst.

          In order to truly draw from the well of creativity that is the Internet and other digital media resources, the student of digital literacy must come to understand the potentialities of the medium. For Howard Roark, granite was not just granite. It was a medium and a muse, a block from which could be hewn great, triumphant walls or delicate, airy sculptures. He viewed the terrain, the resources, the space not as mere materials but rather as a sort of language of expression; armed with this perspective, he sought to incorporate into his work the integrity of each of these elements. For the modern creator, the Internet is the new and living medium through which creativity finds expression. Digital media frees people from the limiting confines of their immediate environs and opens the way to a world unknown and almost magical in its possibilities. Roark remarked, “I thought of the potentialities of our modern world. The new materials, the means, the chances to take and use. There are so many products of man's genius around us today. There are such great possibilities” (E-book 466). Indeed, in coming to more fully understand the role of digital media in the creative process, one realizes its potential in providing a dynamic mode of expression for creators.

          The digital world supplies creators with a means whereby to discover and share their creative ideas. Joseph Tabenkin, for example, a young and aspiring musician and Rand enthusiast, uses Youtube and other social media sites to promote his band's music. He has used his experiences with social media to begin a professional career in music. Audrey Mereu, another Youtube user, shared her thoughts on The Fountainhead in an online book review, a process which played a distinct role in her coming to understand her own individual ideals (personal communication, 14 May 2012). In some sense, digital media can serve, as did The Fountainhead for Mereu, as a tool in the self-actualization of creators. Some find their voice in making and posting videos online; others take up blogging and uncover a new bourne of expression and thought. Yet others discover a sense of wonder and imagination in online photo galleries and 3D environments. The world of digital media, however, is not just a filing cabinet, apathetic towards its contents and unconcerned with whom contributes or what they have to say but is rather a living, breathing organism that expands and adapts and finds life in the contributions of millions and millions of independent creators from all around the world. The call of the creator, then, is to express, however clumsily, the yearnings and trepidations of the human soul, to capture in words or music or images an emotion, a thought, a realization. Indeed, it is in the summation of these independent acts of creation– these words, these images– that the Internet truly finds its soul.

          As a creative medium, the Internet and other digital media resources serve as both a source of inspiration and a means whereby creativity can be shared. Creative expression itself represents only a small portion of the creative process, and as such, the Internet holds inestimable value in its potential to expose creators to new ideas and to contribute to the formation of their respective creative identities (Wallas). With humanity's collective knowledge and experience available at the click of a mouse button, creators, now more than ever, can find inspiration in the muses of modern media. Emily Coleman, a student studying digital literacy at Brigham Young University, echoed this sentiment, stating, “there are countless people who never would have dreamed of creating anything except that they saw someone else do it... [T]he Internet is a source of inspiration, if not the actual creativity itself.” Digital media resources do not, in themselves, cause people to become more or less creative. There is, for example, no magical link that upon clicking makes people suddenly burst forth in song or pen a line that captures the enigma of the human soul. Nor does there exist a website that instantly drains a person of all sense of creative vision and compels him to post pictures of cats with misspelled subtitles. Rather, the Internet gives mankind the ability to enact his creative visions by providing access to both the resources and audiences necessary to realize his specific creative endeavors. James Montmarquet commented, “Machines will be common to a free and an unfree society,” to one fed by or starved of creation's lifeblood (personal communication, May 25, 2012). “If, then, a difference emerges... it must be something that an individual, or perhaps collection of individuals do, by way of using the machines for creative purposes.” For individuals and collectives alike, these machines, these new media, serve as vehicles along the road of creative progress and discovery.

          Some have argued that the Internet and, more particularly, social media actually detract from the creative spirit, founding their argument upon the 'rehash and recycle' culture that has evolved on social media sites like Myspace and Facebook. The Internet, however, is not at conflict with creativity. Rather, it serves as a medium, like stone or paint, that can be used to bring life to an idea or an emotion (Sorenson). One Facebook user, Stella Knickerson, expressed her thoughts on the matter, stating, "New technologies have no power to change who people are at the core. If you could somehow objectively measure pure 'creativity,' I don't think the internet would change what's inside of people" (personal communication, May 22, 2012). Indeed, the modern creator must look to his inner creative vision in determining how he will make use of digital media's potential, as did Howard Roark:
He looked at the granite. To be cut, he thought, and made into walls. He looked at a tree. To be split and made into rafters. He looked at a streak of rust on the stone and thought of iron ore under the ground. To be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky... These rocks, he thought, are here for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them (4).
Digital culture has spawned a variety of forms of new media that creators and innovators are able to harness in developing and sharing their ideas. Recent years, for example have seen the birth of Minecraft, an online 'block world' wherein players extract virtual resource blocks to construct any imaginable virtual object. One Minecraft user captivated Rand enthusiasts in crafting a true-to-form, block replica of Atlas, the namesake of Rand's paramount work, Atlas Shrugged. This and other similar re-adaptations to new media formats are broadening the scope of creativity and expanding digital society's ability to experience ideas through various forms of art and expression. The point in utilizing digital media, though, is not so much about novelty for the sake of novelty as it is about both recognizing the things that digital media can do for creativity and learning to make maximum use of these advantages (Fand 489). As Adam Sorenson, a student of digital literacy, stated, “[T]he creator takes the spark that is already there and uses digital media as one of his mediums, just as an architect uses many different materials. The person already has the creative spark, but... digital media allows them to amplify that spark and disseminate its effects across the world."

          To a certain extent, the use of digital media itself represents a departure from the doldrums of conformity and creative stagnation. The way of the modern philosopher, of the thinker, of the dreamer, of the revolutionary lies not in arcane tomes in forgotten libraries but in the living, breathing atmosphere of the now, in the coursing, pulsating vitality of modern media, of innovation, of change. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand proclaims the value of individual creation, encouraging her readers to break away from stale and unfeeling orthodoxy in deference to personal vision; she invites the reader to deny the structured arbitrariness of conventional form and thought in favor of authentic innovation, presenting the reader with the character of Howard Roark as a far-off, creative ideal, a goal to which man might aspire. Algis Valiuenas, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, carried on this idea:
These great figures are meant to inspire readers to go out and do likewise. When an unnamed young man with sublime but indefinite longings sees a summer resort designed by Howard Roark, he feels a strength that will sustain him in his ambition to realize his vision, whatever that may be. “Don't work for my happiness, my brothers – show me yours – show me that it is possible – show me your achievement – and the knowledge will give me the courage for mine.” Rand wants to send tremors of possibility through her readership (62).
Go and do – Rand's message to all creators. Ultimately, creativity is a manifestation of the human soul and intellect, and the Internet acts as a facilitator of that creativity, a vehicle through which the creator can infuse personality and soul into his work. The ideas of others will, of course, inspire and shape a creator's ideas, but each creator must find within himself and within the world about him– within the sea of digital media and whatever is to follow– the courage, integrity, and confidence to go forward with his labors and bring the spark of creation to the world.

Works Cited
Coleman, Emily. “Re: At One with our Creative Ideal: Paper-in-a-Post.” New Horizons. 30 May, 2012. Online. 30 May, 2012. https://plus.google.com/114528068819576237299/posts/KwMy2TKFWUh
Fand, Roxanne J. "Reading the Fountainhead: The Missing Self in Ayn Rand's Ethical Individualism." College English 2009: 486-505. Print.
Hickey, Alan. “Pseduo-Modernism: the Conformity of the Collective.” Bravely Becoming a Part of the New World. May 29, 2012.Online. 3 June, 2012.
Hunt, Lester H. "Thus Spake Howard Roark: Nietzschean Ideas in the Fountainhead." Philosophy and Literature 2006: 79-101. Print.
Kirby, Alan. “The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond.” Philosophy Now 2006. Online.
Mereu, Audrey. “Book Review: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.” Youtube. June 28, 2011. Online. 7 May, 2012.
Montmarquet, James. "Prometheus: Ayn Rand's Ethic of Creation." Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 2011: 3-18. Print.1 May, 2012
Peppler, Kylie A. and Solomou, Maria. "Building Creativity: Collaborative Learning and Creativity in Social Media Environments." On the Horizon 2011: 13-23. Print.
Powell, Robert L. "Ayn Rand's Heroes: Between and Beyond Good and Evil." 2007. Print.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1943. E-book.
---.The Fountainhead. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1943. Print.
Rand, Ayn. Dir. Henry Blanke. Perf. Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey. The Fountainhead. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2006. DVD.
Sorenson, Adam. “Re: At One with our Creative Ideal: Paper-in-a-Post.” New Horizons. 30 May 2012. Online. 30 May, 2012.https://plus.google.com/114528068819576237299/posts/KwMy2TKFWUh
Tabenkin, Joseph. “What For ft. Barry Quinn - Joseph and The Familiar Strangers.” Youtube. 1 May 2012. Online. 7 May, 2012
Valiunas, Algis. "Who Needs Ayn Rand?". Commentary 2005: 59-62. Print.
Wallas, Graham. Art of Thought. Oxford: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926. Print.
Young, Cathy. “Ayn Rand at 100.” Reason. Reason Mag. , March 2005. Online. 22 May, 2012.

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