To Create or To Re-create?

A conversation with my scientist friend and her scientist husband last weekend sparked fresh thinking about creativity and how artists are creative.  We had been talking about our experiences in music growing up.  While explaining my “divorce” from music during my last year in college, I commented that I wanted to be a creative artist not a re-creator.  What does that mean?

Creative artists create in two ways: they create or they re-create. Both require creativity, but there’s a universe of difference between them.  So which do which?

Those who create something from nothing, e.g. writing down an original story  only they have thought of or a composer who writes down music that he hears in his mind, a sculptor who takes a piece of marble and sees a statue in it that she then creates by chipping away the stone or a painter with a blank canvas who draws lines and shapes and gives them color with paint — these are all creators.  The imagination takes an idea, develops it, and brings it into conscious mind for the artist to express in a way unique to her.  This process often requires specific conditions also unique to the artist such as complete quiet, specific kinds of materials to work with, uninterrupted time, etc.  Each idea comes from the artist’s personal foundation of experience and knowledge, distinct to the artist’s personality and emotions.

A re-creator takes something that’s already been created such as music or a play and re-creates what the creator intended according to the music score or the written word.  Re-creators must have knowledge of the creator and time in which she worked, performance conventions, and technical skill in order to perform the work.  The re-creator must understand what the creator wants to achieve and be able to technically achieve it.  This could be the way a symphony is played to achieve a certain sound landscape, or it could be how a particular character acts in a play, the way he sounds or walks or dresses.  All this takes imagination but in direct collaboration with the rational mind’s knowledge.  Re-creators are musicians, dancers, actors, directors (who are also creators of the visual side ) and art curators or gallery owners.

I went from a re-creator (pianist) to a creator (writer).  I chose to do that because I discovered my language of creative expression was not music but English.  I believed that music should be left to those who were better at re-creating it than I was. 

However, I am still a re-creator.  Every time I pick up a novel, as I read, I am re-creating in my mind what the writer (creator) has written, usually in a visual landscape like scenes playing out in a movie.  Each time I encounter some kind of art, my mind re-creates by learning about it and trying to understand it.  And when I listen to music, my imagination loves to play and make up things that spark from the sound while my conscious mind watches……

Humans are creative beings.  We use creativity to solve problems, conflicts and cook meals as well as create or re-create in the arts.  It is the imagination’s country, where we are always welcome…..


2 responses to “To Create or To Re-create?

  1. out of curiosity:
    Where do you see a translator of written works? I read and completely enjoyed a book Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Perez-Reverte. The “authors” listed on Amazon are he and Margaret Sayers Paden. The content is Perez-Reverte’s: the plot, characters, setting, etc. But an author has two facets – the basic content as well as the method to describe it, the word choices. The latter of which, here, is Paden’s.

    Your description of re-creation would obviously include someone “re-writing” a story. I could [hypothetically] take your Percival novels and turn them into a horror story while still keeping the characters and basic plot. Although, in that case, I think the horror might be just my efforts. Or [not-so-hypothetically] I could simply take your plot & characters and write the story with my own word choices.

    Part of my enjoyment of Captain Alatriste was the language. Which was not the original Spanish. I was left wondering how much I would enjoy the original, if I could read Spanish. How much of my enjoyment is from Paden’s work? We can’t read everything in the original – I’m left hoping that the editions to which I have access are high quality.

    • A publisher usually hires the translator and the translator usually does not own the translation, the publisher does. Only long-experienced and respected translators generally can retain the copyright to the translation. Is translation a re-creation? Yes, as a musician performs/translates music but does not “own” it or create it. Musicians are re-creators.

      “Your description of re-creation would obviously include someone “re-writing” a story. I could [hypothetically] take your Percival novels and turn them into a horror story while still keeping the characters and basic plot. Although, in that case, I think the horror might be just my efforts. Or [not-so-hypothetically] I could simply take your plot & characters and write the story with my own word choices.” If you were to do this, I could take you to court for violating my copyright. Characters, story, plot are protected by copyright — sometimes you hear about a movie studio or producer buying the rights to a character in order to develop movies using the character. Word choice is part of the unique way in which an individual expresses herself, just as the characters and the plot and story that evolve from them are also. So, if you wanted to “re-write” Perceval, you would need to change the characters, the story, the plot and use your own words — at which point it is no longer “re-writing” Perceval but creating a whole new story. So, my novel would need to be in the public domain for you to “re-write” it as you describe which isn’t really re-creating as I mean it, either, but changing the novel, so it would be creating something new and not re-creation. There is an entire genre developing of doing just that with classics — the one that comes to mind is the zombie novel using Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a very popular classic to use for such things. Although the movie “Bride and Prejudice” is a well-done attempt and absolutely hilarious at times — it’s Austen in Bollywood.

      Which brings up the interesting situation of adapted screenplays. You could receive permission to acquire the film rights to Perceval, pay the fee, then write a screenplay from it. This is probably as close as you’ll come to re-creating the novel as is but it’s for another medium. This is like music, which is notated on paper in a way that can be read and then translated into sound during performance, another medium.

      But really, the true re-creation of novels occurs in a reader’s mind as she reads it, or in the audience’s minds if she’s reading it aloud.

      Margaret Paden, in her translation of the Perez-Reverte novel, showed that she is an artist as a translator, her translation is original to her, but she is not the author of the novel and technically she has not “re-written” it, either. She’s re-created it in another language. Such translators are rare…..(smile)

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