When We Create, Other Creators Join

There is a certain flywheel-like effect to beginning a creative process that produces a cultural object, which is thrust into the culture at large for public consumption, and for interaction with, and inspiration for, other creators, who might just take our creations farther (and in new directions) than we had ever imagined. But, there will also be resistance…

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The virtuous cycle of creation goes like this: When others create, we gain inspiration. We are called to create in community. When we create, others gain inspiration. And on it goes, gaining momentum with each turn of the creative flywheel. Of course, sometimes the new creative acts spawned are in direct opposition to the initial creative aims, while others are more iterative and multiplicative of the initial cultural influence. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in The Book That Started a War.

The Literary War Undergirding the Civil War

In the war of words and ideas, the opening salvo by the wildly popular Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not go unanswered for long. Numerous Southern writers took up their own pens to publish competing stories in return, [1] including some of the largest-caliber intellectual firepower the South had in their literary war chest, like the Southern novelist William Gilmore Simms, pronounced in 1845 by Edgar Allen Poe as the best novelist America had ever produced. [2]

An estimated twenty to thirty rebuttal books were published, almost spawning a new anti-Tom genre (and accusations that Uncle Tom’ Cabin was merely propaganda). More than half of the authors were white Southern women, prompting Simms to comment on the “seemingly poetic justice of having the Northern woman (Stowe) answered by a Southern woman.” [3]

This literary war of plantation mistresses versus Northern abolitionists soon turned even uglier on a personal level as a close friend of Stowe’s, Caroline Lee Hentz, contributed her own anti-Tom book titled The Planter’s Northern Bride. [4] If you have ever stood for your beliefs in public and have been attacked in return—not just by strangers, but also by friends—then you can likely understand something of what Stowe must have felt.

But Stowe’s beachhead galvanized action from other anti-slavery creators, too, and spurred on many highly influential politicians, businesspeople, and military personnel, including Union general and politician James Baird Weaver, who credited the book with convincing him to become an active abolitionist. [5] Stowe’s singular book not only created change in the community at large, but stirred up other creators to create for change, too, producing a multiplicative effect that crescendoed, ultimately, into a war—of not just words and ideas, but also of cannons and sabers.

Creating Culture is Not a Solitary Undertaking

The better our art, the more incisive and probing, the more it upends cherished beliefs, then the more we will be attacked along our Creative Journey. But, when we create, other creators join us. There is a certain flywheel-like effect to beginning a creative process that produces a cultural object, which is thrust into the culture at large for public consumption.

“Culture-making requires shared goods. Culture-making is people (plural) making something of the world—it is never a solitary affair. Only artifacts that leave the solitude of their inventors’ studios and imaginations can move the horizons of possibility and become the raw material for more culture-making.” [6]

Ideas have consequences, yes, but if those ideas are not instantiated into cultural goods for others to interact with—to read, to watch, to listen to, to debate, to discuss—then the effect is limited. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “Art is communication, and if there is no communication, it is as though the work has been stillborn.” [7]

Harriet Beecher Stowe could have given anti-slavery talks at the Hartford Female Seminary, one of the first major educational institutions for women in the United States, where she was a teacher, and she likely did, but it was not speeches or even ideas that changed the culture. It was a book. A thing to be reckoned with. A wise choice for a woman who was to campaign vigorously for women’s rights and likely understood the value of presenting her ideas in tangible form, as removed from the frilly skirts and other gendered connotations that might have hampered her influence with men if she had attempted to make her arguments in person.

Creators Influencing Creators

And to be clear, Stowe was herself influenced by other creators, claiming that the anti-slavery book American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses—written by the American abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld; his wife, Angelina Grimké; and her sister, Sarah Grimké, and published in 1839—was so influential to her and such a direct inspiration for her creation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that she slept with the book under her pillow at night. [8]

When we create for change, sometimes, the change we create is in other creators. But we are all called to create for change, and whether our efforts to create for change are noticed immediately—or more likely, if it is slowly or gradually over time—or whether they are noticed by great masses of people all at once—or more likely, just by certain key individuals whom God has ordained—we can be confident that our duty has been done.

But our duty is only done when we ship. Real artists ship, and creators who are called must also ship. “Until an artifact is shared, it is not culture.” [9]

Just create something. Just do something.

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[1] Joseph V. Ridgely, “Woodcraft: Simms’s First Answer to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, American Literature, Vol. 31, No. 4 (January 1960), pp. 421–433.

[2] Review by Edgar Allan Poe in Broadway Journal, September 20, 1845.

[3] Henry Louis Gates, Figures in Black: words, signs, and the “racial” self, Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 134.

[4] Philip D. Beidler (Winter 2005). “Caroline Lee Hentz’s Long Journey”. Alabama Heritage (75).

[5] A. M. Arnett, “Review of James Baird Weaver by Fred Emory Haynes”, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1 (March 1920), pp. 154–157; and profile of James Baird Weaver Archived January 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved February 17, 2007.

[6] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, IVP Books, 2013. p 40

[7] Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Convergent Books. 2016. p. 25

[8] Ellen Garvey (January 25, 2013). “facts and FACTS”: Abolitionists’ Database Innovations”. In Gitelman, Lisa (ed.). “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron. MIT Press. pp. 89–102

[9] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, IVP Books, 2013. p 40

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Joel Ohman

Joel Ohman is a serial tech entrepreneur, author, and the chief creator at Created for Change. You can connect with Joel at JoelOhman.com or via LinkedIn.