Milton Glaser, designer extraordinaire (think I heart NY), calls Freud a ‘true artist’ who, ‘like all true artists, offered us only one way to view the world.’* Glaser finds Freud’s dichotomy an appealing one. As Glaser summarises it, Freud distinguishes between creativity and evil (p. 208). In less stark terms, he brands those who have sided with Eros (over Thanatos) as having devoted their lives ‘to making things, rather than controlling things’ (p. 209).
I, too, had a handy dichotomy with which to frame the world, which echoed these sentiments. I classified people as either creators or destroyers. Creators are those who produce things; destroyers those who debase them. Or, destroyers are those who reduce things to rubble, and creators are those who fashion rubble into things. The description has a nice equilibrium to it that suggests that the two camps are co-dependent. However, I then encountered a third type of person who unbalanced this pull between life and death.
The fixer, discussed elsewhere under the disgruntled tag of ‘helping people,’ takes a less autonomous path, yet—or perhaps so—is generally touted as more morally upright. The fixer does the admirably messy job of fixing people, and this being a more selfless pursuit it tends to slot comfortably into the category of Christian Good Works and parade around rather confidently as Good Works more broadly. The fixer, however, is essentially a conserver or preserver. The fixer does not like destruction, which she exists to remedy. But in this she chooses what Glaser calls controlling things, in opposition to making them. She is a subtle foe, too focused on the equilibrium and completely opposed to the extremities of possibility.
For while the destroyer seems most at odds with the creator, the two are united by their joy in anarchy, which the fixer aims to stifle. Anarchy permits any new combination to arise, whether haphazardly—in the case of destruction—or purposefully—in the case of creation.
Destruction masquerades as creation in this common appeal to anarchy: destruction opens up infinite possibilities in the scattering of splintered shards. Yet the way these shards land is not enough to constitute creation. The destructive impulse is not to repurpose. What is ‘created’ by the destruction of things is not a considered, designed or truly authored thing. Destruction removes function, and in many instances removes aesthetics. The destructive impulse glories in anarchy for its own sake, not for what might come of it. It revels in the burning match, that fleeting burst of flame. The creative impulse is the one that puts this flame to use, restoring function.
I suppose dichotomous views of the world exist to simplify our experiences, and mine is becoming unduly complicated. I can’t even be sure that creators don’t have destroyers inside them, or that fixers aren’t just mediocre creators. I think the take home point here is that the fixers aren’t the sole moral winners, and their impact on the world, while seemingly the most significant, is but the stabilising force in a world full of talented people who shape the world in countless other ways—and more autonomous ways at that, granting, one would presume, a heftier moral agency. And while I pride myself in making things, as does Mr Glaser, and am deeply disturbed by those who delight in the ruining of things for the sake of witnessing decay, perhaps I ought to step off my pedestal too, and acknowledge what debt I owe to those who start fires.
* Heller, Steven and Marshall Arisman. 2004. Inside the business of illustration. Allworth Press: New York.
The severe-looking Dutch lady above is a tribute to my austere Dutch heritage, which comes with its own moral prejudices. It also comes with rather nice bicycles.