What is creativity?
(not meant to provide an encyclopedic view of its primary object-matter…
Creativity has a rich and long history. Yet, the intriguing thing about it is that most people feel intuitively what creativity is, but find it hard to define it. The cause is the term’s complexity and vagueness. There is, in fact, no single, authoritative perspective or definition of creativity. A few “personal definitions” by various famous authors may illustrate this disparity of views:
Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the true scholar.
The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.
Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.
I have great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.
Septima Poinsette Clark
Our inventions mirror our secret wishes.
“The creative individual is a person who regularly solves problems, fashions products, or defines new questions in a domain that is initially considered novel but that ultimately becomes accepted in a particular cultural setting.”
Howard Gardner (1993):
From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?
Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
The artist produces for the liberation of his soul. It is his nature to create as it is the nature of water to run down the hill.
W. Somerset Maugham
Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one’s death.
When all is said and done, monotony may after all be the best condition for creation.
Our current obsession with creativity is the result of our continued striving for immortality in an era when most people no longer believe in an after-life.
“The ability to produce work that is both novel (original or unexpected) & appropriate. The creative individual persists in the face of resistance.”
Robert J. Sternberg (1992)
In order to create there must be a dynamic force, and what force is more potent than love?
The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.
“Creativity is the ability to illustrate what is outside the box from within the box.” -The Ride
It is almost as if you were frantically constructing another world while the world that you live in dissolves beneath your feet, and that your survival depends on completing this construction at least one second before the old habitation collapses.
A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
W. B. Yeats
What, then, is Creativity?
Firstly, here is what it is not:
- It’s not just a faculty reserved for artists (musicians, painters, actors), only for writers/authors, scientists, business leaders, or academic ‘stars’
- It’s not just for children. Throughout our lives it is a part of us and of our personality. Some people display and apply it more than others, and by doing so it defines their lives.
- Creativity is timeless. Verdi composed Falstaff at the age of 80. Titian painted many of his best works late in life, and lived to be 100. Tolstoy wrote Resurrection ten years before his death, 82 years old.
Creativity has several meanings defined by the transitions Person?Process?Product
- The meaning of creativity is descriptive: Johnny is so creative! = Person
- The meaning of creativity is a happening: Children lose track of time when immersed in play = Process
- The meaning of creativity is the end result: What is produced or completed. = Product (www.sla.org/conf/conf_sar/…/Barrancotto%20-%20creativity.ppt )
A commonly accepted view of creativity is that it is a mental and social process resulting in the generation of new ideas, terms or concepts. In rare instances these new ideas, terms, or concepts may be original, i. e. unknown previously. Most often, however, they emerge as a result of new combinations of known (existing) ideas or concepts, improvements on them, and associations between them.
The mental and social process called creativity must run in some real or virtual environment. This environment has been studied from many points of view and in many scientific disciplines, for instance in philosophy, behavioral and social psychology, psychometrics, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, economics, business, and management. The studies have focused on everyday creativity, exceptional creativity and even artificial (computer enhanced) creativity. The results of the studies show clearly and convincingly that whatever approach is creative in one field of human endeavor can hardly be applied directly in a different field and produce creative results. Thus, an approach that leads to some creative results in, say, mathematics or psychology, will not necessarily produce any creative results in art, business, or psychology. The studies, however, have not lead to any unique and generally applicable definition of creativity.
In the absence of a generally valid and accepted definition of creativity, it is always possible to set up a pragmatic set of requirements creativity should satisfy. They might run as follows:
- Creativity must result in something “new” as perceived by the people involved. The term new can have a variety of meanings, possibly requiring litigations to prove the validity of this or that meaning.
- Creativity must result in something that in the eyes of the creators is “better”. Again – what is better? It is a matter of individual or group choice and preference. At this point, we disregard ethical issues stemming from situations in which the creative effort of an individual or a group leads to something “better” is perceived as something (considerably) “worse” by another individual or group.
- Creativity must affect the human life in some way. This implies that the creative result can be or has been implemented, often by technical means.
- Creativity, as considered in this book, reflects the creativity of the typical segment of the human population, rather than the unique blend of ability, motivation and serendipity dramatically exceeding the social and psychological norm, and resulting in major breakthroughs. Such exceptional abilities were manifested in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, or Fuller, to name a few exceptionally creative people.
Creativity is a property inseparable from the creative man. It does not exist suspended in the nowhere. For this reason, a number of psychologists studied the circumstances under which creativity in man manifests and what the peculiarities of that person are. Before we review the most significant research efforts, it is good to review briefly the fields of human activity in which creativity has played a major part.
Creativity in various contexts
There are many perspectives and contexts in which creativity and its importance can and must be studied. This plurality of of views of creativity makes it hard, if not impossible, to file creativity under a single heading. The simplest solution is to consider the various approaches as undisciplinary, rather than trying to form a coherent overall view. The following sections examine some of the areas in which creativity is seen as being important.
Creativity in psychology and cognitive science
Psychology and cognitive science are the primary arenas for the study of the mental and social process resulting in the generation of new ideas, terms or concepts and any other forms of creative thought. A large number of famous psychologists have contributed to the study of the mental and social processes. Their work is reviewed in a separate section. Examples of psychological thinking and research can, however, be found in most branches of human endeavor.
(A psychodynamic approach to understanding creativity was proposed by Sigmund Freud, who suggested that creativity arises as a result of frustrated desires for fame, fortune, and love, with the energy that was previously tied up in frustration and emotional tension in the neurosis being sublimated into creative activity. Freud later retracted this view.)
Creativity in science and mathematics
Mathematics is a highly abstract discipline that, nevertheless, permeates more and more other disciplines. At the same time, mathematics scares most students. From the point of creative thinking it is therefore natural to ask: How does a mathematician think to produce something new, better, and affecting the human life? Several outstanding mathematicians have described their thinking and summarized their views of creative mathematical thinking.
The French mathematician Jacques Hadamard described the process in his book Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, using introspection. Hadamard’s thinking differs from that of authors for whom language and cognition are inseparable in that it is, in his own words, wordless and often accompanied by mental images. Hadamard asked 100 leading physicists in the beginning of the previous century how they arrived at their problem solutions. Among his test subjects were giants of science, like Gauss, Poincaré, Helmholtz. He found that many of the responses were the same as his own, i. e. They viewed the whole solution suddenly and spontaneously (Hadamard, 1954, pp. 13-16).
Helmholtz and Poincaré ere personalities of their own class. *****
Referring to Helmholtz, Hadamard’s process comprises four steps (i) preparation, (ii) incubation, (iv) illumination, and (v) verification. It thus differs from the five-step model proposed by Graham Wallas in that Step (iii) intimation, was left out (ibid. p. 56).
Another outstanding mathematician interested (in his latter days) in the methodology of problem solving was George Polya, of the ETH, Zurich. He wrote four books on the methods that people use to solve problems, and to describe how problem solving should be taught and learned. The books (the publication year is that of the issue used) are: How to Solve It (2004), Mathematical Discovery:On Understanding, Learning, and Teaching Problem Solving (1981); Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Volume I: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics (1990), and Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Reasoning (1990).
The most important among these books probably is How to Solve It, in which Polya provides general heuristics for solving problems of all kinds, including mathematical ones. The book offers advice for teaching students of mathematics and comprises a mini-encyclopedia of heuristic terms. It sold over one million copies and was translated into many languages.
Other mathematicians who made statements on the topic of problem solving include G. H. Hardy and Marie-Louise von Franz. In his Mathematician’s Apology (1941), Hardy states, among others: I am interested in mathematics only as a creative art. The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics. A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it, and that the theorems which we prove, and which we describe grandiloquently as our “creations,” are simply the notes of our observations (Hardy, 1941).
Marie-Louise von Franz collaborated with psychiatrist Carl Jung who worked on archetypes and patterns. According to Jung, archetypes organize images and ideas. This is an unconscious process that cannot be detected until afterwards. Marie-Louise von Franz discovered an important recurring factor: the simultaneity with which the complete solution is intuitively perceived and can be checked later by discursive reasoning (von Franz, 1992).
Creativity in diverse cultures
Creativity is a scientific concept that is mostly rooted within a Western creationist perspective. François Jullien (1997, 1989) examines the concept from a Chinese cultural point of view. Julliens point of departure is the necessity to work on reducing the distance that separates the Chinese and the European modes of thinking, and restart philosophy. Fangqi Xu et al. (2005) reported on the availability of creativity courses in various countries. Lubart and Sternberg (1999) studied extensively the cultural aspects of creativity and innovation. The authors conclude that creativity, like intelligence, is something everybody possesses. Creativity can be developed. Creative people are able to generate/intuit new and possibly unpopular ideas. They can also work with determination to make these ideas accepted by others. Creative people have the willingness to take sensible risks to go against the crowd in effective ways.
Creativity in art and literature
Requirements on creativity in the arts and literature differ from the requirements in other fields. While in most fields of the human endeavor, both originality and appropriateness are necessary (Amabile, 1998), in the fields of art and literature creativity is reduced to originality only, as a sufficient condition. Yet, the fields of art and literature for most people represent the true domain of creativity.
The different modes of artistic expression do not represent an entirely homogeneous environment. Yet, a continuum extending from “interpretation” to “innovation” can be postulated in all established artistic movements and genres. Here, practitioners gravitate to the interpretation end of the scale, whereas original thinkers strive towards the innovation pole. In spite of this coarse division, some “creative” people (dancers, actors, orchestral members, etc.) are expected to perform (interpret), while others (writers, painters, composers, etc.) get more freedom to express the new and the different.
In judging theories of art, several alternatives can be considered. One alternative is the artistic inspiration, comparable to invention. It provides a taste of “the Divine” in the form of transmission of visions from “divine sources” such as the Muses. Another alternative is the artistic evolution, comparable to crafts. It focuses on obeying established rules and imitating or appropriating, which results in subtly different but conflict-free and understandable work. Finally, if the creative product is the language, there is the artistic conversation, as in any “-ism,” stressing the depth of communication.
One of the basic questions in looking at artistic creativity, given the uniqueness of the artistic product, is the question of authorship. Many scholars have worked on it. Two rather similar views, even though a generation apart, are the views of the French philosopher Michel Foucault and the Serbian scholar Davor DÅ¾alto. Foucault claims that all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors. He exemplifies his thesis by the fact that a private letter may have a writer – it does not have an author (Foucault, 1969). An author, according to Foucault, exists only as a function of a written work, as a part of its structure. However, the interpretive process is “the author function.” Thus, for a reader to assign the title of author to the writer of any written work is to confirm that certain standards of the text are working in conjunction with Foucault’s idea of “the author function.”
DÅ¾alto’s work (DÅ¾alto, 2003) is based on examination of the relations between personhood and authorship in the context of the post-modern society and the globalized world. His theory stipulates that art represents an expression of the personal identity of the human being, having an existential importance. Human creativity is a basic feature of both the personal existence of the human being and art production. Creativity is thus a basic cultural and anthropological category, since it enables human manifestation in the world as a “real presence” in contrast to the progressive “virtualization” of the world. In other words, approaching artistic creativity Foucault focuses on the author function, whereas DÅ¾alto talks about a real presence of human manifestation in the (possibly virtualized) world.
Creative industries, professions and services
Creativity is perceived as increasingly important in creative industries and related professions. Creative industries constitute a family of human activities that generate a non-tangible value expressible in monetary units, either by means of creating and exploiting intellectual property or by means of providing creative services. This heading covers such activities as art and antiques markets, architecture, advertising, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, computer software services, radio, TV, and the like. Creative professions are any of those involved in the activities listed, including some aspects of scientific research and development, product development, marketing, strategy, curriculum design, some types of teaching, and similar activities. The creative professional workforce is becoming a more integral part of the economies of industrialized nations.
It is estimated that in the USA alone, approximately 10 million people work as creative professionals, but there may be twice as many. Accurate estimates are difficult to make, since many creative professionals – actors and writers in particular – also have a secondary job.
Creativity in engineering and sciences
Fields such as science and engineering have experienced a less explicit (but arguably no less important) relation to creativity. Simonton is one of many authors who show how some of the major scientific advances in science and engineering can be attributed to the creativity of individuals (Simonton, 1999).
Borderline cases exist, too. A good example is accounting. “Creative accounting” is a popular term denoting unethical practices. However, Amabile suggests that accounting, too, can benefit from creative approaches if these are kept within ethical borders (Amabile 1998).
Excellent example of the “creative leap” can be found in the realm of sciences, be it mathematics, physics, chemistry, medicine, or any other branch of science.
Isaac Newton’s law of gravity is popularly attributed to a creative leap he experienced by Newton when observing a falling apple.
Creativity in organizations
According to Amabile, to enhance creativity in business, three components are necessary (Amabile, 1998): Expertise, i. e. technical, procedural, intellectual and tacit knowledge, creative thinking skills, i. e. the flexibility and imagination with which people approach problems, and motivation, particularly its intrinsic variety. The importance of the combination of knowledge and creativity is best exemplified by the unprecedented success of some far-eastern nations, notably Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Thailand, which have in recent years been joined by India and China.
Economic views of creativity
Almost a century ago, Joseph Schumpeter (1942) introduced the economic theory of creative destruction, to describe the creative way in which old ways of doing things are destroyed from within and replaced by new ways.
Economists like Paul Romer see creativity as an important element in the recombination of elements to produce new technologies and products. Romer (articles published in 1986 and 1990 amounted to) constructed mathematical representations of economies in which technological change is the result of the intentional actions of people, such as research and development. This is how economic growth becomes a reality and leads to capital. Romer also saw the importance is conditions that demand change, as follows form his popular saying: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”.
Creativity is also an important aspect to understanding entrepreneurship. The creative class is seen by some to be an important driver of modern economies. In his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, economist Richard Florida popularized the notion that regions with “3 T’s of economic development: Technology, Talent and Tolerance” also have high concentrations of creative professionals and tend to have a higher level of economic development.
- Florida, R. (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books.
- Romer, P. (1986). “Increasing Returns and Long-Run Growth”, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 94, No. 5 (Oct. 1986), pp. 1002-1037.
- Romer, P. (1990). “Endogenous Technological Change”, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 98, No. 5, “Part 2: The Problem of Development: A Conference on the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise Systems.” pp. S71-102.
- Schumpeter, J. A. (1942). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers. 5th ed.