6/28/2014

Defining Creativity - Crazy or Just Creative? part 2

In response to my last post, "Crazy or Just Creative?" John Lunn left the following insightful comment. Alas, the writing roll that I got on in responding would not fit in Blogger's small comment window, so I thought it was worth posting as a sequel to the original topic.

Imagination is the wellspring of creativity that brought us out of the trees and built houses and civilization. But, I don't believe that everyone is creative - unless you define creativity very loosely - and these days we seem to champion the pedant much more than the artist and since the Earth is covered with followers not leaders, the followers are having their day. You should read the original novel Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boule. It is very different than the movies and is a parable about our society giving up on its creative self.

John, I always love hearing your perspective! I would agree with you completely and still hold my original opinion (and not just because I'm overly diplomatic). I've never read the book, though now I have playing in my head the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy scene of Arthur Dent trying to teach apes to speak beyond grunts while the management consultants also stranded on primitive Earth creatively ponder seriously stupid ideas. 

Grieving Lapis, (detail) an illumination 
from my soon to be released book,
Giving Voice
Gouache , watercolor, and graphite on
Arches watercolor paper, ©2014
I will define creativity as that characteristic which makes possible our ability to solve problems in a new way by synthesizing our experiences and knowledge with our imagination. Yes, that's rather loose, and it allows for use to describe decision making within the design field or physics, or what to fix for dinner when the fridge is nearly empty.

I believe this creativity is innate in humans, but I know that it is so often dumbed down and lost. Our education system does nothing to foster creativity. As Seth Godin sites when interviewed by Debbie Milman, ask a group of 5 year olds, "Who's an artist? Raise your hand!" and they'll all throw their hands in the air. Ask a group of 8 year olds, and some will raise their hands. Ask a group of 18 year olds, and very few will.

There is also an equally strong behavior in humans that causes us to do what we already believe works so as to increase our odds of staying alive. Ideas such as "don't approach the big cat without a weapon," or "do not try to fly off a cliff by flapping your arms," have helped we humans pass on our genes. Creativity kicks in when the big cat approaches us and a spear is not at hand. 

I'm not an anthropologist (though I play one on my blog), but it seems that only those who possessed both traits would have survived to pass on their genes.

So why do so many people follow blindly? Even worse, why do they choose to follow leaders who tell them to believe stupid and dangerous things that are the opposite of what scientific data continually proves? Why do seemingly intelligent people believe leaders that tell them our climate is not changing due to our behavior, pollution is not a problem to breathe, and the Earth is flat or 6000 years old?

Because life is complex and challenging, and fear of how to survive it causes those who haven't adequately developed the ability to think for themselves to look for the easiest path they believe will quell all that fear. Creativity requires curiosity and a willingness to take a slight risk in favor of a different outcome. People who are conditioned from a young age to follow a leader to get a reward have had their innate creativity dialed way down.

I meet people all the time, who have a strong desire to make things, but say to me in a panic, "Oh, I'm not creative" and want to use unaltered, straight out of the book clip art as their design for a metal piece. (Clip art books can be great jumping off places and references for designing, but should not be copied just as is because, obviously, that design has already been done.)

Somewhere way back they likely never learned to draw or worse, were told they didn't have a talent for drawing. - Teachers who say those things to kids should never be teachers! - So now these people have an internal battle between their desire to be creative and make things and their inner belief that they aren't creative. It's all because of doubt and fear.

The path becomes seductively easy. Do that this way and you will get this reward. Do well on the tests, get into a good college, get a good job, make a lot of money. Of course our post industrial economy no longer guarantees that reward, and back when it did, at least for more privileged people, I met and taught too many people who had followed the path, gotten their reward, discovered it wasn't enough, and were quite unhappy because they'd never been allowed as kids, nor let themselves as younger adults, express the creativity they felt inside.

Creativity is not the same as (though is included in) extraordinary talent, nor is having innate creativity a substitute for slugging through hours and hours (or pieces and pieces) to acquire technical skills and mastery. Having a talent for playing the piano does not take the place of practicing, making a lot of mistakes, and learning how to play better. 

I hesitate to say that not everyone is talented. Certainly when I observe my son's friends play (they range from 7-18 in age, and most of them are secularly homeschooled) I can see their imagination wheels turning, and I ponder how their particular and unique abilities will manifest later in their lives. With most kids so often taught what to do, and when to do it for 8 hours a day, it soon follows that an overwhelming number of them will give up and give into what to think and how to think it. Any talent they possess often gets muted in the process.

Sometimes I get really depressed wondering about all the art, music, and inventions that never were, not because they weren't good, but because those who would have produced them, feared they might not be.





1 comment:

John said...

I agree completely with what you are saying, Victoria. But I do differ on your definitions. I would define mostly what you are talking about as reasoning, not creativity. There may be a fine line in some ways between the two, but I guess that’s what language is for.

Reasoning, to my mind, is what separates us from the other animals, along with opposing thumb and the ability to get credit. I would define it fundamentally as “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments, or new conclusions, by a process of logic”. Logic and fear are what make us turn away from a charging rhino, not creativity. I reserve that for a different sphere.

Creativity is defined “as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work”. More simply put “the ability to create”. So what’s the diff? Well, I can reason that a real long sharp tooth might put a hole in the lion before he got within reach but can I create such a thing? Creativity allows us to imagine how it might be done. While they are closely associated, I contend that every person is endowed with reason (some don’t use it as effectively as others...) but not all are blessed with the ability, desire, and capacity to create.

All 5 year olds will think they are artists because every thought they have is new and original to them. High schoolers...not so much. It isn’t because they’ve had it beaten out of them, although many will make the argument you did, but mostly because being creative requires more than just thinking something up.

Anyone want to jump in here?