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Creativity

Creativity

Over time, the definition of the term has evolved; there are more than 60 definitions in the literature of alone. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines creativity as the abil­ity or power to create something new, or improve upon an existing product or idea through imagi­native skills. Creativity is considered boundless if nurtured but does not occur unless one devotes time to cultivating the imagination. To lose one­self in creative activity is to express what is at the root of the . Thus, creation occurs as a physical manifestation of mental images that emerge from the to consciousness.

Charalampos Mainemelis, a scholar noted for his work on the relation between time and creativ­ity, explains that the creative process takes place within a state of timelessness or intense concentra­tion. When one is in a state of timelessness, thoughts are directed away from the self and toward that which is outside the self. Timelessness has a major impact upon creativity because for some, a sense of timelessness is sometimes perceived as counterproductive. Even though creativity and time go hand in hand, more often than not some individuals express that it is a struggle to set aside a block of time to be creative. Nonetheless, the association between creativity and time cannot be ignored, because one’s creation is a reflection of one’s identity that only time on task can reveal. In addition, as some observers have pointed out, time to be creative should occupy a position of greater value in our culture because humanity benefits greatly from creative producers. Indeed, creativity is central to human activity and well-being.

The spirit of creativity is life sustaining. It pro­vides energy and inspiration. Moreover, it pro­vides joy and satisfaction. Creativity is the impetus for productivity; yet despite all of this, the chal­lenge of connecting the importance of creativity with time still persists. Therefore time has a way of sabotaging creativity, especially when the cre­ative process is misunderstood.

Daydreaming is an important aspect of creativ­ity. However, in considering the cultural context of “work,” that is, laborious efforts, it is under­standable that daydreaming is not encouraged. Furthermore, daydreaming is considered by some to be an example of “killing” time. In this sense, time and creativity are at odds. If, for instance, educators continue to view daydreaming as a sheer waste of time, especially for primary and secondary school-aged children, inventiveness and imaginative creativity stand to be compromised.

In our struggle to be productive and meet the standards of what society perceives as useful, the very nature of a dream-like state is underrated. Then again, how often do we as individuals declare that before making a decision, we choose to “sleep on it”? True to creativity, dreams are known to tap into the creative spirit. Here, cre­ativity and time reconcile because time to sleep is acceptable if it is not excessive. Yet it is during this natural periodic suspension of consciousness that a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurs, as in dreaming. It is believed that the unconscious is far more open to insight than the con­scious mind. While daydreaming cannot sustain itself without some unfocused time to allow for sparks of to ignite, dreams work in concert with time. To dream is to permit the imagination to roam freely without judgment to suppress it due to time constraints. Time to dream and time to daydream are equally important for creativity. As Edgar Allen Poe said, “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only by night.”

This entry examines (1) creativity within the context of time, (2) what is deemed creative, (3) how creativity is utilized, and (4) some of those who have shaped our culture through their creativity.

Demystifying Creativity

The definition of creativity is often contingent upon the discipline, such as Art, Science, Business, but results in a product or an outcome that emerges from the creative process. For instance, through the process of generating questions and ideas that center on specific problems, many medical discoveries have emerged to prevent or cure diseases.

Besides referencing creativity as innovative ideas that emerge through the creative process across disciplines, creativity or creative expression encompasses a state of being or frame of mind. When the focus is upon a mission or an unsolved puzzle, a positive attitude and positive thinking motivate the individual to be productive, and within an organizational context it promotes a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging or ownership, as well an enthusiastic interest in com­mon goals, boosts creativity. Simply put, creativ­ity involves emotion.

With regard to creativity and emotion, Lee Humphries’s work illustrates the relevance of pas­sion and optimism. Originally trained as a musi­cian, Humphries extended his expertise to systems theory, mathematics, linguistics, and cognitive sci­ence. Although he focused on problem solving in a traditional sense, more importantly, he expressed that the impetus for the flow of ideas is emotion­ally driven. According to Humphries, some of the most excellent creations emerge when the design, meant to improve the quality of life for one person, is more far-reaching and benefits the masses. However, if the initial goal of the creation is to benefit society, it is important to note here that this quest by no means negates the importance of a creation that is individualistically driven. Again, every aspect of creativity is important, whether the creation is intended to address a personal or a soci­etal need. Emotional landmarks such as an illness, death of a loved one, divorce, or the birth of a child can serve as a catalyst for creativity. Indeed, personal pain is known to deliver some of our fin­est work. In the final analysis, emotions drive cre­ativity and personal needs provide pathways to meeting needs for the greater good. In short, as Humphries asserts, the excellence of a creation is not measured by what the creation is, or for whom it is intended, but rather by the extent to which its benefits serve the “we” as opposed to the “I.” Equally important, the creator receives a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie when, out of pain and suffering, the creation that was meant to entertain somehow serves humankind beyond expectation. In conclusion, emotions trigger cre­ativity and the creator experiences a deeper sense of accomplishment when the creation does more than what was initially intended.

The Magnitude of Creativity:
Artistic and Scientific Creativity

Generally speaking, one may not be able to anticipate the importance of a creation, espe­cially when it transpires in the form of art. As an illustration, the depth of importance of a song may not be realized until it is tied to a message of hope, triumph, and survival after experienc­ing a personal loss. That is to say, music has the potential to have a positive impact upon an indi­vidual’s emotional health similar to the ways in which a medical breakthrough offers hope of surviving a seemingly terminal illness. In gen­eral, creative activity has the power to nurture resiliency for both the creator and the recipient. Potentially, both artistic and scientific creativity play an important role in attitude adjustments. In this regard, music has the capacity to encour­age optimism and one’s ability to look beyond a difficult situation to see the beauty of the experi­ence. For example, creative thinkers who use art and laughter as therapy focus less on pain and more on gain. As a designer, the creative thinker is challenged by obstacles and welcomes the sub­sequent lessons learned. Whether the emotional boost occurs from art or science, in this sense, one cannot determine the magnitude of either artistic creativity or scientific creativity when the question of importance becomes apparent.

The psychologist Dean Keith Simonton asserts that, rather than privileging one type of creativity over another, the process that involves scientific creativity is different from artistic creativity. The creative process for the scientist is more regi­mented. In this manner, creativity is detached from everyday experiences or from the emotions that fuel artistic creativity. On the other hand, the artist operates under fewer constraints and the creative process is fueled by lived realities, thus expressing the feelings of a broader audience. Simply stated, the artist experiences more free­dom. It is essential for the artist to have freedom to tap into the natural flow of emotions and ideas in order to fuel the imagination.

If the creative process for the artist is all-encom­passing, it has been argued that the creative pro­cess for the scientist is compartmentalized. In any event, the magnitude of creativity is immeasur­able, as is the magnitude of the types of creativity (basket weaving, computer technology, theology, etc.) that may be generated. Perhaps what is important is that there are different creative out­comes and, conceivably, one must turn from the creator to the recipient to determine the value.

When a creation is shared, whether artistic or scientific in nature, it takes on energy of its own. Accordingly, the potential to meet the needs of others besides the creator is exponential. In the final analysis, it is important to value and trust the ideas that unfold from the human mind and to appreciate scientific discoveries, technological advances, and cultural contributions.

The most highly creative people, as noted by Pamela Braverman Schmidt, are said to have heightened reactions to their surroundings. In other words, they possess a keen sensibility that allows them freedom to draw from nature and to transform elements of light, darkness, and beauty into representational works of art. This keen sen­sibility to one’s environment crystallizes one’s sense of identity and promotes a sense of accom­plishment. Hence, creativity feeds the human spirit. It provides an avenue to having an impact on social conditions when it is viewed as a vehicle to improve upon the quality of life. Creativity is at the heart of those novel experiences that are inher­ently unorthodox, and unique individuals are at the heart of capturing creative flashes from the imagination. At some point or another, all human beings are creators. Therefore, all human beings possess creativity, the magnitude of which is immeasurable.

Creative Genius: Theoretical Frameworks
of Creativity and Intelligence

Consider the concept of “genius.” Simonton views creative genius in terms of reputation; that is, how well known creators are for their work. If creativity is truly “something” that all human beings possess, it is important to examine it from a theoretical framework. Darwin’s theory on evolution has proven useful in examining creativity or what comprises creative genius. His theory provides a framework of how cultures survive, namely, the coexistence of mental and material phenomena. How humans manage the social world is contingent upon human thought, as in creativity.

In reference to creativity, the primary focus of Darwinian theory is the degree of transferable variations. Therefore, when creativity is defined as the ability to generate variations of an idea or a cre­ation, the pool of creative genius expands. Although some individuals are considered to be a “one-hit wonder,” sometimes that one “hit” or creation earns fame for the creator due to the extent of creative ver­satility that the creation carries. Moreover, creativity is linked to every form of human endeavor. That is to say, creativity is the ability to transform nothing into something and something into something more. To this end, every human being is engaged in the creative process at some point or another.

Psychologist Howard Gardner views creativity as phenomenological. He explains creativity as diver­gent thinking (e.g., brainstorming and elaboration) and intelligence as convergent thinking (i.e., more analytic and evaluative). When creativity is viewed from multiple levels such as spiritually, socially, eco­nomically, or intellectually, Gardner’s working the­ory on multiple intelligences (MI) provides yet another theoretical framework with which to view creativity. Although the word intelligence is used to explain a process of how individuals learn or pro­cess information, Gardner’s eighth MI, naturalistic intelligence, provides understanding of an individual who is aware of how nature impacts human exis­tence as we know it. In other words, the naturalist understands how to interpret the patterns in nature (e.g., planting, harvesting, and conserving), as well as being able to extract cures for human ailments from nature.

Gardner’s most recent intelligence concerns existentialism. Existentialism entertains funda­mental questions that center on human existence, the meaning of life, spirituality, universal truths, and cosmology. Although questions concerning life, death, and the existence of other life forms elsewhere in outer space are now common, exis­tentialism as intelligence could be controversial because it hinges on nontraditional ways to view the world. At this time, existentialism is yet to be included in Gardner’s list of multiple intelligences. Nevertheless, the existentialist offers unconven­tional ways of examining creativity. In other words, creativity unlocks the door to questions that focus on how human nature interacts with Mother Nature, Father Time, and the unknown.

In addition, creativity does not always refer to original creations or authenticity. Creativity is the ability to come up with multiple associations or uses for an existing creation and make use of it beyond what was originally intended (e.g., a paperclip becomes a key). Whereas art and cre­ativity have been closely linked, intelligence and creativity have been thought to be one and the same. Similar to defining creativity, how to define intelligence is just as expansive in its interpreta­tions. Philosophically speaking, one might agree that intelligence and creativity are interdependent processes because it is essential that the individual possess a level of intelligence in order to be cre­ative. Yet ways in which one may view creativity could possibly place a different spin on intelli­gence. The most creative people may not be thought of as the most intelligent people. For instance, a political figure may be perceived as being “highly” intelligent as opposed to being regarded as creative or vice versa. Due to the spirit of the concept of creativity, the word genius part­ners most often with intelligence. If one examines the genius of Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein, one might develop a deeper respect for creativity and how intelligence impacts humanity.

Although societal views reflect that “highly” intelligent people are creative, Roger L. Firestien argues that all human beings possess creativity and that creativity exists in every aspect of human thought. Case in point: Intelligence is not an indication of creativity as in “highly” intelligent. For example, Charles Darwin’s self-assessment informs us that he considered himself a slow learner as compared to his younger sister. Further, his teachers viewed him as ordinary. Yet according to Dean Keith Simonton, Darwin’s genius has become an eponym or household word that represents discovery.

Darwin’s eponymic status emanates from his theory of evolution, thus Darwinism and Darwinian theory are still referred to and discussed as a basis for understanding not only biological evolution, but cultural evolution. Although creativity and intelligence are linked, one cannot measure one’s intelligence based upon one’s level of creativity. Gardner, for example, looks at how individuals are intelligent or “smart.” To further this point, creativity or how individuals demonstrate or exhibit their creative nature may serve to deter­mine how they are intelligent or gifted. However, creativity and intelligence are not the same. According to psychologist Joy P. Guilford’s research, an individual may be far more creative than intelligent or vice versa. In brief, individuals express creativity in various ways. For example, the Dalai Lama demonstrates creativity in how he expresses his views on peace and peaceful coexis­tence between humankind and nature, whereas Luther Vandross demonstrates his creativity in more traditional ways through music and lyric. Nonetheless, both ways are essential in that cre­ativity enhances the thinking process and pro­motes balance in one’s thinking and behaviors. Creativity spawns neutral spaces where differing perspectives can meet. All things considered, in order to differentiate between creativity and intel­ligence and for the purpose of this work, I view intelligence as the process of acquiring knowledge, and creativity as the process of transforming that knowledge into something that is functional.

Creativity and Social Acceptance

As previously established, the relationship between creativity and time is not always reciprocal. Beyond that, other friendly and unfriendly relationships occur; for instance, creativity and social acceptance. Without a doubt, creativity has been suppressed or supported based on social acceptance or public opinion. In some cases, new ideas are sometimes regarded with suspicion, particularly when these creative expressions challenge the status quo or the ideas appear to be too futuristic. Accordingly, creative thinkers have themselves suffered ostracism and even banishment. Thus, creativity can be very political. Furthermore, the freedom to engage in creative expression can be regarded as a privilege, especially when the creator is subject to social constructions of, but not limited to, race, class, and gender. Hence, the fate of the creator depends heavily upon public acceptance.

To illustrate how politics impact creativity, the musical career of Igor Stravinsky is a prime exam­ple. Historically, musicians and composers have struggled to gain respect for their craft. In the early 20th century, when scientific pursuits and technological innovations were accorded greater prestige than the arts, Stravinsky invigorated music by reinventing the image of the musician as a skilled professional requiring the dexterity of a carpenter and the expertise of a jeweler. Such expertise resulted in a proficient manipulation of pitch and rhythms to produce variations of sound referred to as music. Stravinsky himself became recognized as a master of his craft.

With respect to creativity and social acceptance, gender imposes tension upon women creators. Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179), also known as the “Sybil of the Rhine,” is an extraordinary study. She exemplifies creativity and spiritualism. Hildegard achieved remarkable status as an intel­lectual, an artist, a healer, and a theologian during a time when women were seldom valued for their opinions, let alone for their creativity. To be more precise, Hildegard achieved respect for her musical compositions, poetry, and spiritual interpretations. She made extraordinary achievements in a time when creative expression was afforded mostly to men. Some of her artistic expressions are: Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), Liber vitae merito- rum (Book of Life’s Merits) and Liber divinorum operum (Book of Divine Works), and Physica and Causae et Curae. Although she was not a physi­cian, she had natural abilities to obtain healing properties from nature. Perhaps her religious path and her spiritual credentials allowed her to leave a legacy of important work that, in addition, greatly influences naturopathic professions.

As was the case with Veronica Franco (1546­1591), whose gender and class were primary in her struggle to become a respected literary figure. Although she was educated, advancing as a cre­ative thinker was not easy in a time when women’s voices were silenced by a patriarchal system. As well, her profession as a courtesan interfered with her progress in gaining social acceptance. However, Franco’s creativity redefined women, not only those in the writing profession, but to a certain extent, women in general. Rather than drawing from antithetical representations of women, Franco advanced an ideology that positioned women as moral agents. As a courtesan, she took advantage of the relative freedom afforded her by virtue of her profession to participate in intellectual milieus and civic projects. To her literary credit, Veronica Franco published poetry and selected letters (Terze rime and Lettere familiari a diversi).

Concerning gender and class, Veronica Franco’s life illustrates unfriendly relationships between creativity and social acceptance. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s life, however, makes clear how creativity and social acceptance were shaped by race, class, and gender. Watkins Harper, though not a slave or born of slave parentage, was sub­jected to laws that governed slaves. Here, the effects of a divisive institution that advanced the enslavement of the personhood of men and women of African descent helps us to see how creativity and social acceptance were at odds. As previously stated, creativity is an important aspect of human activities. Watkins Harper used creativity to address social problems. She lectured and focused her literary work on antislavery and temperance issues (Christian principles for black women). Much like spiritual credentials for Hildegard, tem­perance work within the context of Christian lib­eration provided a space where creativity and social acceptance could become friendly acquain­tances for Watkins Harper. During her era, social acceptance and creativity in the face of race, class, and gender oppression were not easy accomplish­ments. To her credit, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper published her poetry in 1854. Forest Leaves, Eliza Harris Crossing the River on the Ice, To the Union Savers of Cleveland (a piece about a young slave girl), and a host of papers and letters are examples of her work.

Zora Neale Hurston did not gain recognition for her creativity. However, her creativity was encouraged by her mother, Lucy Hurston. Although Zora did not live during the period of American slavery, acceptance for her artistic abilities was disadvantaged by race, gender, and class bias. As well, her career was suppressed by literary themes that depicted people of African descent as victims. Public opinion also had a negative impact upon the finances of many artists. Although financial depen­dency weighed heavily upon Zora, her creative spirit rose to document black life with characters that fed imaginations across cultural boundaries. Zora Neale Hurston did not receive full recogni­tion for her creativity during her lifetime. She left a humanizing genre of folklore, poetry, novels, plays, and her autobiography in spite of her intel­lectual lynching. Some of her most popular pieces are: Dust Tracks; Their Eyes Were watching God; Mules and Me; Tell My Horse; How It Feels to Be Colored Me; Moses, Man of the Mountain; and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. Through the work of Zora Neale Hurston and a host of other artists, creative expressions grace our lives in spite of barriers such as social acceptance and time constraints.

The Potential Within Time: The Creators

Over time, humankind has made great strides in the awareness of the potential to be creators. Although creativity and time are inextricably linked, these terms do not overlap in meaning. Also, it is the prevailing ideas at the time along with culture that determines what is deemed creative. Again, Simonton speaks of scientific creativity as being dif­ferent in structure compared to artistic creativity. In addition, the nature of creativity varies based on the motivation for the creative process, as in cre­ative problem solving or the ways in which an individual disseminates knowledge. Creative think­ers are multifaceted, and creativity therefore mani­fests itself in many ways.

With each creative thinker comes an evolution of how humans view themselves and experience the world around them. Creativity has launched the unthinkable, as well as unleashed ideas from imaginative spaces that have improved the quality of life over time. A glimpse into the minds of creative thinkers provides a common thread: how humankind has come to be. Charles Darwin provided questions and answers concerning the meaning of life such that other philosophers, scientists, and social scientists continue to use his work to distinguish between science and spirituality.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, philosopher and scientist, presented what some might feel were conflicting ideas with respect to God and the uni­verse (i.e., Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theory). Hence, some believe that God is mis­placed or displaced when science is used to explain the “always was and always will be.” In terms of creativity, Teilhard de Chardin’s perspectives placed him in opposition to the church, and he was excommunicated. However, Teilhard de Chardin’s work exemplifies the synthesis of theo­logical, philosophical, and scientific thought that provides yet another way of understanding human creativity.

The philosopher Henri Bergson was also fasci­nated with the intellectual form of human thought. He explained human reality through biology, astronomy, and environmental adaptation. He viewed the life process as a plan of renewed cre­ativity. As Arthur Mitchell put it, species survival is based upon changing the imposed conditions of existence. Alfred North Whitehead, a 20th-century British philosopher, viewed science as a way to explain modes of human perception of what is (e.g., sounds and shapes) and how lived realities are shaped. He spoke of two modes of perception: presentational immediacy and causal efficacy. Presentational immediacy is represented by sym­bols that are cultural in that they provide a deeper understanding of shared realities. On the other hand, causal efficacy refers to human emotions. Here, humans become aware of what has an effect on the human psyche. In this way we come to understand that creativity is dependent on the time that one is willing to invest to become creative. The physicist Albert Einstein devoted his entire life to creative thought; his revolutionary ideas on gravity, space, and time continue to influence our views of intelligence and creativity, and his theo­ries still stand as a challenge to future thinkers and creators.

See also Bergson, Henri; Critical Reflection and Time; Dali, Salvador; Darwin, Charles; Einstein, Albert; Experiments, Thought; Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre; Wagner, Richard; Whitehead, Alfred North

 

Further Readings

Baltazar, E. R. (1996). Teilhard and the supernatural. Baltimore, MD: Helicon Press.

Bright, L. O. P., (1958). Whitehead’s philosophy of physics. New York: Sheed and Ward.

Calder, N. (1979). Einstein’s universe: Relativity made plain—The amazing achievement of Albert Einstein and what it means today. New York: Greenwich House.

Darwin, F. (Ed.). (1958). The autobiography of Charles Darwin and selected letters. New York: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1892)

Firestien, R. L. (1988). From basics to breakthroughs: A guide to better thinking and decision making. East Aurora, NY: United Educational Services.

Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds. New York: Basic Books.

Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologists, 5(1950), 444-454.

Mainemelis, C. (2002). Time and timelessness: Creativity in (and out of) the temporal dimension. Creativity Research Journal, 14(2), 227-238.

Mitchell, A. (1944). Creative evolution. New York: Random House. (Original work published 1911)

Simonton, D. K. (1999). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. New York: Oxford University Press.

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