Quotidian Wonders

Creativity: Some Definitions

michelangelo_sistinechapelcreationofadamdetail1The plethora of definitions and interpretations of “creative” and “creativity,” their overuse and abuse today, make the effort of defining what we mean by “creativity” a valuable one. In a time like ours, when everyone’s definition is valid regardless of their expertise, we must be aware of the danger of defining a slippery concept such as creativity. We can, however, try to articulate those definitions that work for us and may work for those who think on the same general lines as us.

One other remark before offering our contribution is that most definitions of creativity make a point of connecting it with a final, material product. Production, they argue, is a sine qua non condition of creativity. But creativity is rather conceptual than material. The final product of the creative process is a concept. The materialization of that concept into a product may or may not happen without rendering creativity meaningless.

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First, creativity ought to be political. Not in the way political parties and electoral campaigns are political. For most people involved in that kind of politics, the word itself has long ago lost its meaning, and they run for office out of inertia, without necessarily thinking that they can achieve any of the promises they make to those who vote for them. Most seasoned politicians all over the world, those who make a career out of politics, know that they are nothing else but clerks, governmental employees, pencil and paper pushers from one office to another. Neophytes on the other hand, who may believe in their heart that they will indeed effect change while in office, once elected get lost in the intricate Minotaur’s labyrinth that is state bureaucracy and rarely achieve anything.

Creativity ought to be political in the critical sense of politicizing the meaning(s) of the world around us. Creativity will thus become the process of questioning the status quo, of looking beyond pre-determined social, political, educational, religious, and institutional meanings. Creativity does not take anything for granted in the name of and for the sake of tradition itself, but does make certain that traditions promoting progress and innovation are preserved and integrated into the movement forward. In other words, creatives are those who are able to see beyond what state propaganda (all modern states make a point of inculcating their ideology into all of us through the state education system) teaches them to see: benevolent governments, benevolent leaders, great historical figures presented one-sidedly, military prowess, national pride, and so on.

Second, Creativity promotes change, but does not seek change for the sake of change. Once the reality around us is deconstructed, the system understood, they can be rebuilt, and new meanings can be assigned. Offering new meanings of established epistemologies is creative, making creativity a hermeneutical process.

Thus, anyone, in any profession has the potential to become a creative: artists, craftsmen, engineers, scholars, medical doctors, lawyers. Of course, being creative is not simply a measure of adding innovative features to one’s field of expertise. Being creative means deconstructing the pre-assigned meanings in the field and re-building them on new, revolutionary premises.

Third, creativity can be learned. A creative mind can be formed through education. Just like compulsory education teaches us the ideological parables of the system, its historical necessity and justification, narrates to us the formative myths of the nation, instills in us the concept of citizenship, creativity can be taught in parallel, as a counter-argument to compulsory education. Its purpose is not to deny what compulsory education is teaching us, but to offer the possibility of a duality, of a dialogue, instead of a doctrinarian monologue.

Fourth, creativity is revolutionary. Not in the sense of socio-political revolutions (although creativity could have that potentiality as well), but in the conceptual sense of re-assessing, re-configuring pre-established canons. It questions premises, deconstructs the process and tries to build something new where necessary.

A revolution inspired by creativity will most likely not take a violent form. It won’t materialize in street demonstrations, slogans and shooting victims. Effecting change through creativity will take a long time and it will happen gradually. In fact, it started happening with the onset of the cultural and philosophical movement known as postmodernism, in the 1960s.

With postmodernism, the idea that there is no absolute reality, that everything we experience is an individual perception of an invention, a social construct the door for cannon-breaking and for individual interpretation was open. The Flower Power, Feminist and Civil Rights Movement are intrinsically related to and closely follow the beginning of postmodernism. Michel Foucault’s work opened, in turn, the path for deconstructivism and Jacques Derrida.

Finally, as part of that tradition, about a decade ago various spiritual (don’t read religious), conceptual movements emerged all over the world: saving the environment, eating and living healthily, minimalism and anti-consumerism, protecting the earth, recycling, living in harmony with nature, fair trade, to name a few. In the past four-five years, other, more socially-oriented, revolutionary movements also came into being: Occupy Wall Street (http://occupywallst.org/ and http://occupywallstreet.net/), The Zeitgeist Movement (http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com/). There are also creative approaches in understanding technology, like the Singularity movement (http://singularity.org/ and http://singularityu.org/), as well as creative ways to do business, coming from worldwide renown entrepreneurs and businessmen, such as Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. The latter call for a change from the all-powerful, supersized corporations that originated from the industrial revolution and the realities of the 19th century and which no longer respond to the needs of contemporary consumers, who are looking for more personalized, human-touch products rather than assembly line, mass production merchandise.

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