I wrote a paper for college discussing, defining, and determining just what creativity is and also taking a practical look at everyday examples. I figured would be interesting to see how people reacted and what their opinions were – all comments welcome!
English Composition II
January 8, 2007
Creativity ≠ Originality
There is nothing new under the sun. How is it that we as humans constantly "create" new things, yet still refer back to old ideas, events, and situations that remind us of what we just came up with? When we see a new design, hear a new theory, or view a work of "modern" art, our brains naturally attempt to relate what it perceives to a previous experience. It does this in an attempt to grasp the unknown variables and define the entity based on a system of order that we subconsciously submit to and modify every day.
To better understand and study creativity, one must first know the origin. Creativity, according to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, is: "Creativity is the ability to think up and design new inventions, produce works of art, solve problems in new ways, or develop an idea based on an original, novel, or unconventional approach." (Encyclopedia of Children’s Health) If this is indeed the case, is everyone creative? Yes, of course they are. Every single person on this earth possesses the ability, resources, and potential to be creative in an alarmingly high number of ways, and uses those abilities on a daily basis even without knowing it.
Why do designs we make always have patterns that we can relate to? Why do we pick our "favorite" colors first when creating something? Why does one song remind us of another? These are all examples of our brain wrapping previously experienced events or understandings around itself to use as a stepping stool for a new arrangement of details that are slightly different than the ones it’s used to. There is nothing new under the sun.
So if everything we create comes from what we’ve already experienced, is there really such thing as "creating" something entirely new? Consider the following quotes as current definitions of creativity: "The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts." (Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)) I would like to refute and blend the ways of thinking I’ve quoted thus far, and instead propose a slightly differing definition that is much simpler: "Creativity is a mental alteration and mixture of previously encountered themes, ideas, and experiences." (CK Hicks)
So in that one can be creative and come up with ideas and concepts that have not been previously expressed to them before, it could also be said that those "new" occurrences are actually the brain’s way of finding (at least) two sources of information and merging specific elements therein to form a unique pattern. There is nothing new under the sun. "Creativity is the ability to see something in a new way, to see and solve problems no one else may know exists, and to engage in mental and physical experiences that are new, unique, or different." (Encyclopedia of Children’s Health) While I agree that seeing something in a new way is part of the creative process, variation alone cannot stand alone as the action that takes place in the creative process. One must also consider the act of using opposing opinions as creative viewpoints. Even though the idea it opposes is already in place, the act of taking an alternate approach is still variation and therefore creativity being expressed in yet one more form.
Let’s take a look at an example of how the brain could actually be limited to little or no creative expression. Suppose for a moment that you grew up inside a gray box, engaging in absolutely no interaction with anyone or anything else other than the walls around you. If someone were to show you an image of a tree, then ask you to create your own personal variation of the object, your brain would force you to fabricate something extremely similar to the only known reference that it has to go by – the image that was shown to you. While there are seemingly infinite numbers of variations and changes that could be made, you would still be limited to only having one reference and/or experience to that entity to pull from. Therefore, your tree would not have a treehouse in it, the leaves would be green, and it would not be split down the middle after having been struck by lightning.
My main question is this: is it possible that the answer to "creative block" is merely experience? For example, if a writer can’t come up with the ending to a specific scene in his book, does the answer lie in experiencing as many possible variations of similar scenes as possible? This would allow the brain to draw from an exponentially increased number of sources, therefore expanding the possibilities by which it can factor "new" conclusions. "It is only through experience that creativity grows and matures." (CK Hicks)
On this very note we must also ask if there is such thing as "bad" creativity? Is it possible for the human mind to conceive something that is useless and/or unusable? In my opinion, the answer to this question is no. Dreaming is an excellent example of the brain’s creative "drive" being set free of the cages that we put around it while conscious, and finally being able to use situations, images, emotions, and sounds to convey what is going on within our bodies. So are all dreams, regardless of how strange and impossible they may be, a useless pool of thought processes? No, rather they present us with raw unchecked creative energy that completely submerses us in realms beyond the limits of logical progression. These situations can be incredibly inspiring intuitive insight-initiating instances that we might not otherwise be exposed to outside of dreams.
Throughout the course of history, the human mind has realized an unbelievable amount of information and expressed it however possible. While I still hold to the fact that creativity is variation versus pure originality, the complexity and nearly limitless possibilities make it impossible to summarize or contain. Even this paper, from concept to conclusion, is an example of creative spin put on previous events, experiences, and understandings. There is nothing new under the sun.