What and why creativity?

Creativity is one of those strange human attributes. Like beauty, everyone knows what it is, but can’t quite pin it down (although several psychologists and computer scientists are trying to). Ask someone on the number 8 bus (the number 9 is so passe dahling), and they’re likely to talk about art and genius (Einstein crops up a lot) and those leaps of imagination that take you from a difficult problem to an elegant solution in seconds.

So, assume for a moment that defining creativity is closely bound up with how we view art. Because that takes us to the heart of the problem, for both creativity scholars and curators. Which is how do we know when what we’ve got is good art? Creativity is about creation (of things, concepts, etc), but anyone can do that, and most people create things most of the time, even through mundane things like stepping into puddles and changing the splashmarks around them. What really distinguishes the creative from the creation is an agreement, a sense of the novel, the innovative, even the beautiful. (My personal measure for art btw is “does it tell me something about the world, tell me something about myself or make me smile”).

Creativity is also bound up with how we define ourselves as humans. Douglas Adams linked religion to man’s view of himself as a toolmaker, but I think this definition goes deeper than that. Humans survive in extreme spaces and despite rapid changes in their environments because they can create what they need for that survival (clothing, shelter, food production etc) from the materials around them. I’m saving a discussion of toolmaking (in humans and other animals) for another day, but the point here is that creativity is a fundamental part of human success (and possibly also failure) in the world. So it may be useful to understand how it works, and how we might be able to harness that, in a non-terminators-taking-over-the-world kind of way.

So, how do we define, model and even mimic creativity. I’ll leave that for later posts…