Thursday Thoughts: On Nonconformity

Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn

“But it seems to be less obvious somehow that to create anything at all in any field, and especially anything of outstanding worth, requires nonconformity, or want of satisfaction with things as they are. The creative person–the nonconformist–may be in profound disagreement with the present way of things, or he may simply wish to add his views, to render a personal account of matters…

…Without the person of outspoken opinion, however, without the critic, without the visionary, with the nonconformist, any society of whatever degree of perfection must fall into decay. Its habits (let us say its virtues) will inevitably become entrenched and tyrannical; its controls will become inaccessible to the ordinary citizen.

But I do not wish to underrate the importance of the conformist himself–or perhaps an apter term would be the conservative. In art, the conservative is the vigorous custodian of the artistic treasures of a civilization, of its established values and its tastes…However greatly the creative artist may chafe at entrenched conservatism, it is still quite true that his own work is both sustained and enriched by it…

…Nonconformity is the basic pre-condition of art, as it is the precondition of good thinking and therefore of growth and greatness in a people.”

~Ben Shahn, On Nonconformity

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