Creativity and Originality: Tick, Tick…Boom!

Tick, Tick…Boom! is an autobiographical musical about the playwright Johnathan Larson, best known for his musical Rent, who has spent “eight years!” of his life writing (and re-writing) an original rock musical. He is rejected by producers over and over again, hoping that one day his music will “take off and fly!” 1 The entire movie centers around the artist’s struggle to create. Featuring actors like Andrew Garfield and Vanessa Hudgens and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda—the creator of the Broadway musical Hamilton—the movie has received quite a bit of notoriety. Tick, Tick…Boom! was nominated for one-hundred and six awards, including an Oscar. Artists, musicians, and other creatives have shown appreciation for the film’s modern feel, penetrating questions, and relatability. It is inspiring, well written, and the songs are catchy.

 

The Struggle to Create
Throughout the entire film, Larson (played by Andrew Garfield) asks cutting-edge questions about life, purpose, and motivation that everyone (creative or not) asks themselves. Tick, Tick…Boom discusses topics like homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic, but the main focus is on artists’ struggle to create.

The characters in the film desire two things in regards to their art: to create something original, and to communicate something meaningful. The stress that Larson feels under this heavy creative burden is overwhelming. To his credit, Larson puts in the time and effort that it takes to create with excellence, but he does not get his musicals produced as quickly as he hopes. Overall, Larson is portrayed as misunderstood and ahead of his time. His personal view of success and worth in life are measured by his ability to create something original and meaningful. Anything that lacks originality and purpose in the film is looked down upon. This is seen especially in the lyrics of the song “Play Game:”

Walk through Times Square, and what do ya see?
Ugliness where architecture used to be
The glamor and style have been replaced by gaud
Like the sixty dollar spectacle, it’s all a fraud

Without originality, creative work is considered fraudulent or inconsequential. To these characters who champion a secular worldview, “creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.”2

Original and Meaningful
This stress to create something that people view as valuable or “good enough” mirrors our own personal fears. We can relate to this anxiety, whether at work, school, or home, as we have a tendency to feel apprehensive about our achievements. This worry often comes not just from the desire to create important things but also in trying to prove ourselves valuable.

Like Larson, many creatives experience a feeling of failure when what they have created is not championed by others as relevant or important. Doing our work with diligence and excellence is important, but without a Christian worldview, work and creativity easily become burdensome and futile.

A Theology of Creativity
Everyone is creative because God is creative. Because humans are made in the image of God, the creator of heaven and earth, humans have a similar capacity to build, think critically, be artistic, and steward the resources we have been given—this is called the cultural mandate.3 Even if you would not consider yourself “artsy,” or are limited in your abilities, you still have the capacity to create because you are a person made in the likeness of God. Mathematics, science, language, and many other subjects, all require complex thinking, imagination, and ingenuity to master. Creativity is your birthright as a human created in the image of God.

Human beings are creative in all kinds of ways, but how and why we do that work is a matter of our worldview. As stated above, the characters in Tick, tick…boom! express a secular belief that creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value.”4 Christians, on the other hand, view creativity as “an act of worship during which you express your true humanity and purpose.”5 Unlike secularists, Christians create because there is objective meaning and purpose in life, not to produce subjective meaning and purpose.

God created the world with value and meaning, designing it with purpose and forethought. God’s image bearers, humans, were given the responsibility and privilege to steward his creation as his representatives. Because God is the primary creator, humans are free from the stress of being original, the first to create something. Everything humans produce is ultimately secondary to what God created first—we are sub-creators. This does not mean that creative output cannot be unparalleled or special. Work can be done uniquely, with talent, and in innovative ways that adhere to the cultural mandate. God’s original creativity frees us from the stress of making something original, as everything that we make is secondary to what God has already created. Knowing that humans cannot come up with something original frees us to take on the exciting role of stewarding what God has already given us.

There is also freedom in knowing that humanity does not have to produce meaning for their work to be valuable. God originally created everything with purpose and value, and humans have the responsibility to explore and champion this intrinsic meaning and purpose. We get to steward the valuable creation God gave us and use it with excellence—we cannot infuse it with meaning.

The creativity that God calls us to is for something much more productive and profound than the secular view. As stewards of creation, our labor and imagination is meant to manifest the image of God, glorify and worship him, and serve other people.

Creating in Freedom
The implications of an accurate theology of creativity are numerous and freeing.

First, you can create in a way that is not egocentric, since your creative work isn’t about you. Instead, creativity becomes a worshipful act, praising God for the purpose and beauty underlying his world and encouraging those around you.

Second, your work need not be visible for it to be valuable. Your work already has value because in making it you were doing the thing that God created you to do. You can work diligently to create with excellence but you do not have to infuse it with meaning. Embrace honesty and vulnerability in your creativity.

Third, your creative output does not define you. In fact, your creative output is not yours, it belongs to God. Because creativity is sourced in what God has given you, you do not have to conflate your identity with work output—your value comes from your identity as an image-bearer of God.

Fourth, since God understands the process of creating, you do not have to work in isolation. Invite God and others into your creativity. The things that you craft can happen in a relationship with God and with others. This process can be a part of your sanctification, freeing you from pride, unexplored brokenness, and sloth. God is not restricted by your limits, he uses the innovation of others to encourage and help you.

Fifth, your creative work can be redemptive. All real and lasting redemption in our lives comes from God, and through ingenuity you have a chance to share with others how you have been redeemed.

Finally, creativity is a defined goal, it’s “an act of worship during which you express your true humanity and purpose. 6 Having this defined goal means that you can achieve it. You are not guessing in the dark about why you are creating or to what purpose. You are free from struggling in futility, your work can achieve a God-given goal. 7

No matter how or what you create, you are a beloved child of God whose value does not come from your work. When you create from a biblical worldview, you escape burdensome, futile, and fleeting efforts for objectivity and meaning. You can “take off and fly” in creativity when your efforts come under the lordship of Christ. 8

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Elli Ramirez

Elli Ramirez has a B.S. in Integrated Ministry Studies from the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. She is passionate about helping to equip and support rising generations to embrace God’s truth and champion a biblical worldview. By working in the Publishing and Content Group at Summit Ministries she helps to create and acquire products and resources that equip students. Elli and her husband Victor live in Colorado Springs. When she is not working you can find her spending time with friends and family, going on road trips, reading a good book, hiking in the mountains, or camping.