When I was in high school, a Romanian literature and language teacher told me that if I wanted to work on certain creative projects, it is absolutely mandatory that I read all the major Romanian novels and stuff. How could I ever make a good project without reading Moromeții or other stuff?
I was not sure what to answer right then and there.
A short while after, I actually got to think about it. When people give you advice, it’s usually helpful to at least consider it. After going his rule through my head I realized that it was in fact true nonsense.
I mean, how many of the big directors or artists of the world have read Romanian 1940s novels? Seriously, do you think Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg, to give just some examples from the cinematography industry, as then I was preparing to go to Film School, have read three hundred long novels about the Romanian village? I am convinced that the answer is absolutely not.
A few years later, I was reading some conferences I believe they were held by one of my favorite writers, Jorge Luis Borges. He was saying that true value and true quality come from within people and are not based on cultural background. Basically, the big and relevant thinkers or creators of the world have not based their works on the things we have today and have still managed to create some of the most significant cultural products ever made. For example, Aristotle thought deeply without having read Nietzsche or Kant, and Shakespeare wrote his plays without having seen all the plays created in the 20th century in Europe and seeing all the big movies. And yet, their works are as good, if not better than a lot of things today created by people who have read and seen it all.
The temporal argument might seem weird, as it is very obvious, but it is very good. It proves that one does not need to be “cultured” in the old-fashioned sense of the word to create amazing creative works.
As a second argument, I can bring out the fact that this vision is extremely euro-centric. In other words, the “mandatory” literature, films, plays and so on are almost exclusively European and American. If you think about it, in Europe people hardly know Asian art history, not to mention African or South American art history. And you can’t deny that Asians, Africans and South Americans have not created highly valuable works.
The argument that one needs to see “certain” things to crate is in a way legit, but it’s mostly stupid. On the one hand, of course you need to know what has been done so that you don’t invent the wheel again, but on the other hand, basing your creativity on what has been done will only hinder originality, as you will build it on the frames established by the past. It’s a fine line to walk and maintaining a balance is hard, but I think that one should at the same time know what has happened in the art world, but that you don’t need to consume everything to be creative. You need to know things to have roots and to understand where you’re coming from, but not to continue to reproduce that. Originality usually comes from rawness. In other words, the less you know, the more you know or, better said, the more you can explore. It’s weird and difficult, but it’s real.
Also, as I said before, there is not one culture that is the point of reference. A creative can find their inspiration and background in any type of culture. For example, you don’t need to look for the art history of a country; you can look at the culture of a religion which spreads throughout more countries for example or of anything else.
To conclude, I can say that no, you don’t need to read Romanian literature to create valuable works. You need to look at what is around you, dig deep in the culture of which you want to be a part of, and of others to know what’s going on and to try to stay aloof in order to maintain your creative directions.