From, Aaron Copland, On Music
The creative act goes far back in time; it has functioned and continues to function in every human community and on every level of mankind’s development, so that by now it possesses an almost hieratic significance a significance akin to that of the religious experience. A civilization that produces no creative artists is either wholly provincial or wholly dead. A mature people senses the need to leave traces of its essential character in works of art, otherwise a powerful incentive is lacking in the will to live.
What, precisely, does creativity mean in the life of a man and of a nation? For one thing, the creative act affirms the individual, and gives value to the individual, and through him to the nation of which he is a part. The creative person makes evident his deepest experience, summarizes that experience and sets up a chain of communication with his fellow-man on a level far more profound than anything known to the workaday world.
The experience of art cleanses the emotions; through it we touch the wildness of life, and its basic intractability; and through it we come closest to shaping an essentially intractable material into some degree of permanence and of beauty.
The man who lives the creative life in today’s world is, in spite of himself, a symbolic figure. Wherever he may be or whatever he may say, he is in his own mind the embodiment of the free man. He must feel free in order to function creatively, for only in so far as he functions as he pleases will he create significant work. He must have the right to protest or even to revile his own time if he sees fit to do so, as well as the possibility of sounding its praises.
Above all he must never give up the right to be wrong, for the creator must forever be instinctive and spontaneous in his impulses, which means that he may learn as much from his miscalculations as from his successful achievements. I am not suggesting that the artist is without restraint of any kind. But the artist’s discipline is a mature discipline because it is self-imposed, acting as a stimulus to the creative mind.
Creative persons, when they gather together, seldom speak of these matters as I speak of them now. They take them for granted, for they are quite simply the “facts of life” to the practicing artist. Actually, the creator lives in a more intuitive world than the consciously ordered one that I have pictured here. He is aware not so much of the human and aesthetic implications of the rounded and finished work as he is of the imperfections of the work in progress.
Paul Valery used to say that an artist never finishes a work, he merely abandons it. But of course, when he abandons it, it is in order to begin anew with still another work. Thus the artist lives in a continual state of self-discovery, believing both in the value of his own work and in its perfectability. As a free man he sets an example of persistence and belief that other men would do well to ponder, especially in a world distracted and ridden with self-doubts…