It’s a popular topic and and a very old term, but seems difficult to define. So what is Creativity? I don’t want to re-hash too much old stuff, but, really, just keep it simple. My thought is that our instinctive feelings about what creativity is, are usually correct. There is a nice essay by Ray Haberski posted here on the origins of the term creativity. The article goes on to discuss what exactly we mean when we discuss the word.
The article mentioned above, shows a graph of the occurrences of the terms “creative” and “creativity” in literature. The graph shows a sudden rise after the Second World War. Perhaps it wasn’t until the post-war boom, that we begun to have the resources to give more thought to it.
Carrying on this method, let’s look at what Google Trends says about its search frequency. See below, a graph showing the usage of “creative.” I should point out this was written in June 2015.
Now, let’s look at another graph. This time, let’s look at the terms “what is creativity”
What can we learn from this? It seems that interest in things that are “creative” is falling, while more and more people seem to be confused as to what creativity actually is. Note, that the term “creativity” on its own has remained roughly constant.
It seems like we have confused ourselves as to what creativity is.
This is exactly why we need to go back to basics.
Quite often, one of the best ways to get to the heart of what is meant by a word is to look at its etymology. Creativity comes from a Latin word, creo. Interestingly enough, although there is much debate about the precise meaning of creativity, scholars give and quote the definition of creo with little fuss. It is frequently defined as to: Make, Create, Beget, Give Birth to, Conjure up (1).
So, being creative, unsurprisingly, means to create something – but, there’s more…
When the ancient Greeks spoke of a painter, they would say he merely imitates, he does not create or make anything (according to Plato, see note 2). With the onset of Christianity, the idea of God’s “creation from nothing” came to be known. However, creativity was only the realm of God, not of man (3).
The idea is that the universe came from God, therefore he could create. A painter or musician who, in classical times was very much confined by rules dictating their art, could only make or imitate. Let’s take a more modern view of this.
Consider a guy, let’s call him Reginald. Reginald makes hamburgers at a fast food chain for a living. All the ingredients come prepared and he simply has to open the boxes, cook a beef patty at the instructed temperature for the instructed time period, and assemble the final product: a damn fine hamburger. Undoubtedly, Reginald is creating something – but is he being creative?
Instinctively, everyone will answer “No, Reginald is working for a fine organisation and providing some people with quick and tasty meals, but he is not being creative.” Why not?
In the video below, Part 1 of Everything is a Remix, Kirby Ferguson, argues how much art we often see as “original” and “creative” can actually fall under what he calls a “Remix.”
(Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.)
Are these people creating “Remixes” being creative? I think the instinctive answer here is ‘yes’. If the premise of this video is true – everything being a remix – well then, everything is a remix, even things we see as “creative.”
You can argue whether or not “everything” is a remix, but compare the artists mentioned in this video with Reginald, the hamburger dude. What’s the difference?
For me, we can go back to Renaissance times and the advent of Christianity. The idea that God created the universe because it came from him (whether you are religious or not isn’t relative, the point is the thought pattern behind this). When humans are being creative it is because it is something coming from us. Consider our initial definition of the Latin Creo: to give birth to. A baby born comes from its mother. The mother creates the baby, with both something external and something from herself.
The best I have heard this summarized is by George Marsh about making music:
“I would like to be able to continue to let what is inside of me – which comes from all the music that I hear – I’d like for that to come out. The music’s coming through me.” – George Marsh
What is inside of you is a “remix” (if you will) of your external influences, which goes through you and comes out with your influence. It comes from you so it is creative. It is more than a regurgitation but it is never totally unique and original as some definitions of “creativity” lead you to believe.
Where did I hear this quote? I heard it where a lot of people did. On DJ Shadow’s Building Steam with a Grain of Salt. Why am I mentioning this? Because the album this track is on, Endtroducing… an original album that is made entirely of samples of other people’s tracks.
Feature image used courtesy of Steven Gerner
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
2. The Republic by Plato – Book X.
3. Roebuck K., 2014, Idea Management: High-Impact Strategies, Emereo, Publishing, 125