Real Creativity

Munira Mirza’s ’08 review of Creativity: Unconventional Wisdom from 20 Accomplished Minds:

The editors’ corporate conceptualisation of ‘creativity’ makes this collection about as exciting as a the spring show from Marks and Spencers. … What is creativity? … the respondents give a rather similar (and by the end of the book, dull) answer – it’s thinking out of the box, it’s breaking the rules, it’s challenging convention. …

In fact, creative people don’t think of themselves as ‘creatives’ with a particular mentality to boot (unless, of course, they run a creative consultancy, in which case it’s necessary for promotional purposes). They think of themselves as novelists, engineers, software designers, journalists, artists, and so on. … They make things and are preoccupied with the things they make, unbothered with developing a ‘creative’ mentality. … It is their engagement with their chosen activity that drives them, rather than some kind of personal predisposition or character type. …

We live in a society obsessed with cultivating the creative mind: on this view, the mental attitude is all that matters, regardless of what end product it actually makes. This shift has taken place most profoundly in arts education. … And now, we have a deluge of state sponsored initiatives to encourage creativity in people (creative industries, Creative Partnerships, creative quarters, etc) but a dearth of the skills that allow people to create. …

There are many examples in the book when creativity is shown to be a team effort, rather than the spark of an individual genius …. Creativity is also something that requires hard work and intellectual energy, rather than spontaneity. … Karl Marx pointed out that when people engage in creative labour they are required to pay close attention both to the concrete practice of creating, and the conceptualisation of the end product. (more; HT Rachel Armstrong)

Yup.  I’ll admit it; Murina’s more (academic-style) articulate than I on the subject.

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  • Josh

    I’ll take a shot:
    Creativity is adapting prior knowledge to a new situation.

    Most definitions focus in defining a particular degree of creativity, but creativity is a mental function that all people engage in all the time (At least in a basic sense). So I’ll argue that creativity can be simple or complex, require hard work or very little effort.

    • ug

      Or as my math professor always says, creativity is about “reducing [new problems] to the previous case.”

  • This reminds me of a particular frustration us writers are prone to, I think it was Ben Corman who spelled it out on the old Rudius Media board.

    Namely, that plot ideas are a dime a dozen. Anybody can come up with a plot, and writers have a dozen or so bouncing around the back of their head (Extra Credits on the Escapist said the same thing goes for video game developers). Non-writers often think they have amazing ideas for a book, and might even propose splitting the profits if somebody would write them down.

    That’s not how it works. Almost any ‘idea’ can be turned into an amazing book – if the writer is talented – but it’s not the amazing idea which is hard to get.

    What differentiates good writing and bad writing is the sublte flourishes, experience from writing things in the past, and knowing how to use the language. Josh is pretty bang on calling it “combining the old to make new.” Harry Potter and the MOT is a perfect example of this; easy ‘idea’, it’s all in the execution. I have a pretty neat idea right now involving something Eliezer said about QM, horror, and some space-exploration tropes. It’s not new, but it is new – and if I ever write the bloody thing it’ll be the writing which makes a difference.

    There’s nothing I despise so much as the ‘artist’ who rejects ‘commercialism’, so he just tosses shit up on a screen with no work ethic or consideration for the audience.

  • Ray

    It’s akin to asking a good athlete how they knew to cut to the basket when they did.

    They didn’t of course, they just did it.

    • John Coltrane once saw a transcription of one of his solos.

      “Can you play that?” asked the transcriber.

      Coltrane shook his head, “No.”

  • Joseph K

    I don’t think you should be looking for a unique definition of creativity. Creativity just means doing things differently. The real questions is the place of creativity in art. How much creativity is excessive? If it’s too unique it won’t connect with people. How can you recognize when something unique is actually an improvement on established norms? The problem a lot of more experimental/artsy artists have is they think that creativity is an end in itself. They assume if something is unique, it must be good. But many new ideas just aren’t very good, and, as has been suggested, quality works of art find a balance between establish norms and conventions and path-breaking innovations. When it comes to creative skill, what most people think of is being able to think of unique ideas and being able to judge whether they are good.

  • When I was working for an architectural and landscape designer he considered me very creative, but I have never really thought of myself that way. I am a problem solver; the judgement of “creativity” comes from how unusual or unexpected a particular solution is to the person making the judgement (or how a person’s solutions in general or in aggregate are judged to be).

  • Ray

    Ironically, everyone is pushing for creativity, but it comes with some baggage. Genuinely “thinking outside of the box” necessarily means you’re noticing the problems inside of the box.

    Unchecked that comes across as contempt, and is one of the reasons why truly creative people are often difficult to work with. Most grow out of it of course, or wind up a real neurotic mess with no friends and multiple marriages, but that’s another story.

  • The focus on “creativity” has resulted in contentless education. Everyone is focused on learning how to learn rather than learning. They are focused on “critical thinking” rather than giving us something to think about.

    • Richard

      Give a man a fish…

  • Creativity, in the sense of big-picture, lateral thinking, or however, i.e. the thought process instead of the end product, is of course necessary, and equally obviously it is insufficient.

    The problem with focusing so much on improving creativity, is that for most people and for most of the time, it simply isn’t the bottleneck. Most people, most times, don’t produce creative solutions/works not because for lack of a divergent thinking style or whatever, but because of a lack of mastery of the problem domain.

    Here’s a good test. When you find yourself trying to come up with a creative solution or product, do you also happen to often find yourself having to work through the low level details of the candidate solutions you consider? If so then you will get higher marginal returns from brushing up on your domain knowledge, than from trying to think creatively.

    This is because creativity is nothing magical, it is search process. People who have mastered their field tend to have a huge advantage in coming up with creative solutions simply because they are not slowed down by having to tediously check their answer for each candidate solution they consider.

  • lemmy caution

    This has been linked before but is interesting: