Albert Camus on Absurd Creation: Art as a Reaction to Meaninglessness

One aspect of Albert Camus’ Absurdism related to creative expression and the function it served for humans in an absurd world.

Jul 28, 2023By Susanna Andrews, BA Interdisciplinary Arts

albert camus absurd creation


Artistic expression and the function it serves have always been a cause of contention. Creativity itself is an organic and vast phenomenon, showcasing the imagination of the human mind. Because of its ambiguity, arguments surrounding its purpose lead to no right answers. The philosopher and novelist Albert Camus proposes his own perspective on this topic in the context of Absurdism, a theory defined by the meaninglessness of life. “Absurd creation” is a term he coined to label humanity’s drive to invent out of alienation experienced from the awareness of an absurd existence. Here is an outline of Absurdism, the power of creative expression, the inevitable downfalls of creation, and the question of art’s value.


Absurdism and Camus

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Albert Camus by Henri Cartier Bresson, via The New Yorker


Absurdism is a philosophy defined by the belief that deriving meaning from existence is impossible. The world is chaotic, and it’s infeasible to impose order. The concept of absurdity survives due to humanity’s denial of it; without the presence of the humans living in the world, the world would be freed of it. Those who gain awareness of the absurd experience a form of alienation that is torturous without discovering an outlet to express their inner turmoil.


Albert Camus was a French existentialist born in 1913 who wrote extensively on philosophy. He disputed people’s perception of him as an existentialist or even as a philosopher at times, but embraced the label of an absurdist, which he wrote about in his books, “The Stranger,” “The Plague,” and “The Myth of Sisyphus.”


In the latter novel, he compares the story of Sisyphus, a character in Greek mythology, to the never-ending pointless struggle of humans to find meaning. Sisyphus upsets the gods and is condemned to forever push a boulder up a mountain, which proceeds to roll down every time he reaches the top. He attempts to prevent the inevitable, but nothing works, just like Camus’ perspective that no matter how hard people try, the meaning of life can never be uncovered.

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Coping With Absurdity Through Artistry

absurdism myth of sisyphus
Sisyphus by Titian, 1548-49, via Museo del Prado.


One method that Camus identifies to cope with the brutality of becoming conscious of the absurdity of existence is through artistic creation. He presents the choice to create as a privileged way to deal with the mental strain of realization. It’s a physical manifestation of the freedom that humans have; without the belief in a god, individuals can act of their own volition. Camus labels creative acts as “rebellions against reality”


Art allows the mind to detach from the self and expand to understand the connection between the one seeking solace from an internal battle and others. In “Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus states that artistic expression is the ultimate form of joy. He defines all creators as absurd, since the pure act of creation is an expression of the absurdity of existence, even if the artist lacks this awareness.


Creating Order Through Imagination

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Chance, Order, Change by Kenneth Martin, 1978-9, via Tate.


Through art, humans can recreate reality, giving order to a disorganized world. Creators can play God, fabricating universes and inventing a closed-off realm where they can control the knowledge that defines their society. The characters one might write in a novel can engage with their surroundings and other inhabitants without feelings of alienation. A vibrant version of the true material world can be developed to bring life to harsh actualities.


In Camus’ literary work, his characters were written to intentionally highlight the challenges people endure as they search for their purpose in life. He explored the difficulties of navigating social, natural, and material dimensions in the context of a meaningless mentality. The process of creation is perceived as a transformative action, choosing desirable elements and integrating idealistic features unattainable in real life. There’s no fictional earth without the drive from a philosophical mindset; to build something novel is to develop complex identities.


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Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper, 1950, via the Smithsonian.


Camus emphasizes the free aspect of employing imagination, and its capability to encourage viewers of its products into action. If the audience is faced with a world created in the context of an absurdist viewpoint, the façade of a complete explanation of the significance of occupying this planet may be questioned.


Although artistic expression is a way to channel the weight of carrying this hopelessness, Camus states that there is no fleeing from absurdity, since creation is still considered an absurd undertaking. Designing a new world doesn’t erase the fact that reality still stands superior, as it is the real world humans live in. Imaginary realms may distract from the tangible truth all around us but absorbing and creating art can only transport the mind for so long. He states that “Creating or not creating changes nothing.” It may bring temporary solace to the artist but it can’t alter the absurdity of existence.


Does Art Have Value According to Camus?

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The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1895 via National Gallery of Norway.


Through the eyes of an absurdist, art doesn’t hold intrinsic value. In fact, it’s believed in this philosophy that nothing has inherent value simply by virtue of existing. However, Camus does acknowledge the extrinsic value art holds and the purpose it does serve. Through art, the spirit of revolution can be expressed, and the embrace of absurdity can be reached. It’s a functional medium, stripped of potential for emotional attachment or spiritual movement like some perceive it to be capable of.


Instead of viewing artistry as an extension of oneself or an expression of subconscious feelings, it’s seen as a practice of self-discipline and an opportunity to grow in patience. The ability to directly influence every aspect of one’s creation leads to a controlled environment that can launch the artist on a path to enlightened lucidity about reality. The creator must invent with the mindset that what results is meaningless. They must be completely detached and not feel a personal tie to it. This perspective is the only way true freedom can be attained in the process. Because of this, Camus strongly believes that separating the artist from their work destroys any chance for finding value in art.


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Sisyphus by Antonio Zanchi, 1660-5 via Google Arts and Culture


Art can only be seen as valuable if prospective consumers can understand this implied function and implement thoughts of absurdism into their own philosophy. Value is stripped away if the artist attempts an explanation of their work in hopes of conveying a message or a desired interpretation. Having an absurd outlook means that striving to fully comprehend anything in such a chaotic world is a fruitless endeavor.


So, in the end, creation just cycles back to strengthening one’s understanding of the disorderly world we exist in, even though it’s impossible to obtain complete knowledge. Camus does believe in the power of creative expression to shed light on the absurdity of life as a human; but he also warns us that nothing we do to avoid the harsh truths outlined in the philosophy will affect the reality we live in.

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By Susanna AndrewsBA Interdisciplinary ArtsSusanna is an artist passionate about generating concepts for creative writing pieces and short films. During this process, she loves to research topics related to art history and philosophy to inform her ideas. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Interdisciplinary Arts and lives in Southern California.