Creative minds are attracted to creative minds: poster-makers Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau of Seripop, the Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, and moody electro-pop Hexes & Ohs' Heidi Donnelly and Edmund Lam are all examples of imaginative Montreal twosomes. If you live outside this island city, you've no doubt encountered, or heard of, similar artistic matches.
For years evolutionary theorists have dismissed the idea that artistic ingenuity developed as a way to choose a partner-only in the past thirty years or so have they raised a come-hither eyebrow, acknowledging the role of creativity in evolution. Darwin made the controversial assertion that traits not directly related to survival could be understood as being helpful in attracting a mate. The most sexually appealing traits, he argued, would then become pronounced in successive generations: creativity could fit this bill. Having the stage presence, lyrical poignancy and sonorous vocal punch of Bono or Leslie Feist won't help you catch dinner, but it might well help you score a nice piece of tail.
Having the stage presence, lyrical poignancy and sonorous vocal punch of Bono or Leslie Feist won't help you catch dinner, but it might well help you score a nice piece of tail.
In evolutionary terms, this means that the more creative you are, the better chance you have at passing on your genes-and the genes of someone you deem worthy. These traits can even trump resources devoted to the development of purely survival-oriented traits. After all, who hasn't skipped a body-maintaining meal or a night of sleep in order to pursue an idea?
Geoffrey Miller, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico and author of The Mating Mind, says that, unlike survival traits that seem to have evolved for practical reasons-like the opposable thumb-the development of creative capacities appears to have been a random process. That's because, in order to be the most attractive, one's creative expression has to be the most unique.
So, when breakdancer JoDee Allen, and artist/ex-breakdancer Gene Pendon were checking each other out on the dance floor at a house party three years ago, they weren't simply doing what you do at a house party-they were acting out Darwin's theory. Both were dancers and came equipped with a superior creative knowledge that they could use like peacock feathers to attract and assess each other's prowess. They had met two years earlier, but the connection didn't happen until their art was face-to-face. Franco Proietti, saxophonist and flutist of acid-jazz band Kobayashi, met singer Michelle Tompkins at a winter hockey game, but it wasn't until warmer weather, when Proietti saw Tompkins sing, that he thought their light friendship had the potential to get hot 'n' heavy.
While creative displays may be able to snag you a partner, keeping the relationship going successfully requires a few basics-like respect, something that Pendon and Allen share. Pendon, a multi-talented visual artist who co-founded the various incarnations of Montreal's HVW8 art house, operates his art studio next to Allen's Studio Sweatshop, which she co-owns. "I admire the risk-taking she's done in her dance, opening the studio and being very dedicated to her art," said Pendon of Allen. They have recently moved in together and, while they generally keep their creative endeavours separate, they continue to motivate, observe and admire each other's artistic pursuits.
While Darwin's theory of creativity is tidy, artistic egos can be fragile and flammable.
Edmund Lam and Heidi Donnelly are Hexes & Ohs, and they both live and play together. The pair has been together for ten years, and are familiar with the problem of being a couple in a band. Their former group, A Vertical Mosaic, was a trio, which made the third member the odd one out. That band is now defunct: "Anybody who's toured with their band knows it's difficult to go on the road," said Edmund. "It's kind of lonely, you're in a different place every day and you're not around your friends and family. So, being able to do it with [your partner] is nice because when you have a crappy show you have that person there with you."
While Darwin's theory of creativity is tidy, artistic egos can be fragile and flammable. Tompkins and Proietti stay away from frank criticisms of each other, while Allen and Pendon are less shy about calling the shots as they see them-constructively of course. If a partnership is creatively unbalanced, one partner may feel jealous of the time the other spends on his or her work. "If you respect the person you're with, you understand [that] if you take that away you're harming them," said Tompkins. "It's a matter of being fair and respectful. Both people have to make some room for independence to explore. You have to give them time, and then when they come out with what they've been working on, that's when you share."
Sometimes creative relationships can run counter to Darwin and Miller's evolutionary theories. Writer Jennifer Brandel and musician Nick Gage, Chicago natives who lived in Montreal for a year, were both attracted to each other's zany sense of humour and artistic will, but once together they spent more time talking about art than creating it. When they broke up, both found that their artistic output exploded. I found the same thing when prepping for an art show after splitting from my musician boyfriend.
Creativity is a self-perpetuating evolutionary force. It's not just another way to score, it can also help cement the foundation of a healthy, respectful and productive relationship.
Melissa Wheeler is a Montreal news and arts journalist who used to breakdance until she decided it was too bad for her knees. You can hear her report on the weekend traffic on CJAD 800.