There is a scene in J.R.R Tolkein’s ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’ where after reciting a poem he had recently composed, Bilbo remarks on how the Elves appetite for Poetry, Music and Songs seems to them more important than food and drink. In his world, the Elves are immortal, but live within communities of mortals in Middle Earth (Rivendell, to be exact). The Elves themselves often point out various fundamental differences between mortals and themselves “it is not easy for us to tell the difference between two mortals’. Bilbo brings up an interesting thought concerning the nature of the intellect, and of the various (often competing) intellectual pursuits.
Science seems to be, for the most part (in our world, in this particular epoch), a way of exploring the world and the universe, and explaining and understanding things. More than that, though, it’s the way in which science as a discipline explains things, or seeks to understand things. Scientists are concerned with the structure and the function of a thing, the origins of the thing, and the potential demise of that thing. The why’s and the how’s all bundled up into one grand theory. Certainly scientists, great scientists, must be exceptionally, and wholeheartedly creative men. The greatest discoveries have always been completely unprecedented; they shouldn’t, logically, have been made. These men took the available information at their disposal, and they made and confirmed suspicions well beyond what the available information at the time suggested. Others discover things in ways no one would think to employ. Only science doesn’t discriminate; some time in the future (whether that be a thousand years, ten thousand, or a billion), science will exhaust itself. Everything about everything will be known. It’s what happens then that determines the fate of things now.
The arts, poetry, music, writing, drawing and painting, will never fade or out-use themselves. A poem written at thousand years ago is still a poem today. The arts reflect the times, they paint florid pictures of the future. They tell us of the past, and the inquire about the nature of existence itself. The arts are personified creativity, and when everything is known, creativity will outlast us all.
You see, the Elves in Tolkien’s world know this fact, and their knowing is brought to light in the emphasis they place on the arts in their own lives (although surely they call it by another name). The Elves are immortal. They probably don’t know everything, but given their lifespans are seemingly infinite… well, ‘it’s only a matter of time‘. “They seem to like them as much as food or more”. As Hobbits and Dwarves need food and drink to survive, the Elves need the stimulation of creative pursuits.
There’s almost a stigma attached the Humanities and the Arts in the twenty-first century. Whether the economy is to blame, shifting cultural and social norms, or the advances and triumphs of modern science, as a society we have little respect for the arts, delegating them to the job of employing those weak-minded and ill-suited for anything scientific.
The discoveries of Bell, Einstein and Avogadro required them to think creatively, outside of the box and each with a personal, unique twist. Every Poem, every lyric and every painting is like a new theory of relativity, or a new periodic element. Maybe not as groundbreaking or as grand, nor as influential or important. But the methods are still the same. There will forever be better poets, and greater playwrights, and we will forever redefine our rubrics. But even the worst poem is still creative and unique. For the arts are fundamentally creative, and require hard, and odd thinking. The Elves have it right, and a thousand, ten thousand, or a billion years from now, when all has been discovered and all is known, we will again raise up the arts, as a creative force, to the place which they rightly deserve.