Creativity is freedom. Freedom is creativity.
Why did the Soviet Union crack down on its artists?
Why did Hitler insist upon tight control over the arts in Nazi Germany?
Why does Cuba jail its artists?
Simple: Creativity is freedom. Freedom is creativity.
The ability to create is fundamental to being a human; in fact, it is, in my opinion, the most amazing, important power that every single human being possesses.
We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the human ability to create...well...other humans. The Chinese Communist Party even infamously went so far as to restrict that most basic creative right.
Creativity is how we learn about one another.
It's how we learn about our past generations.
Creativity is alive in our bodies every second of every day.
And to acknowledge this is to acknowledge the power of the individual; and that's something authoritarian regimes simply cannot allow.
Thinking for yourself means you might (gasp!) think differently than those in power want you to think. North Korea even mandates regular, collective self-criticism sessions to ensure that nobody even strays from thinking thoughts that differ from the party line.
Paolo Ciccone, a Charleston, SC-based personal branding photographer (a true artist with whom I've worked), grew up in in Trieste, Italy — just miles from what used to be the border with Communist Yugoslavia during the Tito regime. His experience colored his definition of freedom.
As I wrote in my book:
“For me, freedom means the ability to create,” he told me. “We have a big brain here (pointing to his forehead). The frontal lobe here is all about imagining things.”
He continued, “We often hear people say, ‘I’m a very visual person.’ Well, we are all visual people. It is vital for us to create. You can write, you can paint, photograph, be involved in music, or use your creativity to build a new business.”
As history has shown, he said, this freedom to create is one of the first things quashed when totalitarian regimes grab power.
“Think about this,” he said. “In Soviet Russia, rock n’ roll was illegal. In Afghanistan, the Taliban made TVs illegal. The first thing that a repressive regime does is to clamp down on creativity.”
“Because they are afraid of it,” he explained. “The freedom of creating, expressing yourself is a disruptive force for good and so I think that for me, freedom is definitely to be creative.”
As sociologist Eve L. Ewing wrote in a 2017 New York Times op-ed:
"Artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism. Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value. Like the proverbial court jester who can openly mock the king in his own court, artists who occupy marginalized social positions can use their art to challenge structures of power in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible."
Though I respectfully disagree with Ewing's equating a reduction in taxpayer-funding of government agencies to totalitarian attacks on the arts, she is spot-on that authoritarians see art as a threat to their power.
When we think of one of the most influential "change agents" in history -- Jesus of Nazareth -- perhaps we don't consider that he was a creator who spoke in stories and creative parables, because he knew of the power of storytelling.
And we know what the authoritarians did to Jesus in response to this threat.
Creativity is freedom, and authoritarians don't like freedom.
And even when "well-meaning" authoritarians try to abridge this freedom in order to "protect us," it doesn't work out so well.
As comedy legend John Cleese recently said of a proposed speech-control bill in Scotland:
“It’s disastrous to the creative process because the creative process is a matter of spontaneity. If you’re going to come up with something that’s really interesting it’s going to come out of your unconscious and if you’re having to edit everything you say before you say it then nothing is going to happen creatively and also things that are rather lovely and funny in ordinary conversation they’re not going to happen either.”
Freedom is the enemy of authoritarians...
And creativity IS freedom.
In my former podcast, Freedom Mindset Radio, I often asked my guests this question: What does freedom mean to you?
I've come to believe that the answer to that question lies in how much, or how little, we are able to unleash our creative flow.
To be clear, we all have the ability to unleash our creative flow, but I've coached a number of individuals who felt that were not free to do so, because of the programming instilled in them over the years by the "scarcity pimps" in their lives.
The scarcity pimps are fundamentally authoritarian -- chained to the rules of what they think is "responsible" and "practical".
The change and spontaneity of creativity is anathema to a scarcity pimp, who values safety and order over freedom.
The irony here is that in authoritarian societies, the creative people are jailed...
Yet those in "free societies" who choose not to be creative can feel like they live in a prison.
And so I believe the key to breaking free -- whether under the thumb of an authoritarian regime or an authoritarian mindset -- is to unleash your spontaneous, playful, endless source creative power on a regular basis.
Because, as Maya Angelou said so eloquently:
“You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”