Twenty years ago Paul Johnson published Intellectuals, biographical essays forming what Kingsley Amis described as "a valuable and entertaining Rogues ' Gallery of Adventures of the Mind." It was a bestseller in many of the score of languages into which it was translated, but also criticized for describing clever people "so as to bring out their bad behavior"
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March 14, 2006
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Excerpt from Creators by Paul Johnson
The Anatomy of
In 1988 I published a book called Intellectuals. It surveyed the genre and provided essays on a dozen examples. It was a critical book whose unifying theme was the discrepancy between the ideals professed by intellectuals and their actual behavior in their public and private lives. I defined an intellectual as someone who thinks ideas are more important than people. The book was well received and was translated into a score of languages. But some reviewers found it mean-spirited, concentrating on the darker side of clever, talented individuals. Why had I not more to say about the creative and heroic sides of the elite? Therein lies the genesis of this work, Creators, dealing with men and women of outstanding originality. If I live, I hope to complete the trilogy with Heroes, a book about those who have enriched history by careers or acts of conspicuous courage and leadership.
Creativity, I believe, is inherent in all of us. We are the progeny of almighty God. God is defined in many ways: all-powerful, all-wise, and all-seeing; everlasting; the lawgiver; the ultimate source of love, beauty, justice, and happiness. Most of all, he is the creator. He created the universe, and those who inhabit it; and, in creating us, he made us in his own image, so that his personality and capacities, however feebly, are reflected in our minds, bodies, and immortal spirits. So we are, by our nature, creators as well. All of us can, and most of us do, create in one way or another. We are undoubtedly at our happiest when creating, however humbly and inconspicuously. I count myself doubly fortunate in that God gave me the gift of writing, and the ability to draw and paint. I have made my living by words, and I have derived enormous pleasure throughout life by creating images on paper or canvas. Whenever misfortunes strike, or despondency descends, I can closet myself in my study, or walk across the garden to my studio, to seek relief in creation. The art of creation comes closer than any other activity, in my experience, to serving as a sovereign remedy for the ills of existence. I am fortunate again in that the spheres in which I work are universally acknowledged to be "creative," and provide visible testimony to what I have done, in the shape of forty-odd books, countless magazine and newspaper articles, and tens of thousands of drawings, watercolors, and paintings. Other forms of creation are not always so obvious. A man or woman may create a business, one of the most satisfying forms of creation because it gives employment and the opportunity to create to other people as well -- tens, even hundreds of thousands. And the business is there for all to see, in a huddle of buildings, possibly spread over many acres, or in products sold in the shops and used and enjoyed by multitudes. But some forms of creativity cannot be seen or heard or experienced. My former editor, Kingsley Martin, said to me once: "I have never had a child. But I have made three gardens from nothing. Two have disappeared, and the third will doubtless do so also after I die." But all three once produced flowers and fruit and vegetables, and made many people happy. And indeed, nothing is so conspicuous and luxurious an act of creation as a fine garden -- or so transitory, as witness the utter disappearances of the magnificent gardens of antiquity registered in written records.