What is creativity

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Creativity can commonly be described as the ability to produce something that previously did not exist. Whilst there are also implicit suggestions within that definition of improvement, innovation and novelty, there is also an accepted, intrinsic sense of the essence of creativity as something to be highly regarded and not to be confused with success. As Sturnberg (1999) stressed in his critique; ‘creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel (i. . , original, unexpected) and appropriate (i. e. useful, adaptive concerning task restraints)’ (Sturnberg 1999, p. 03). Throughout the academic world a consistent definition of creativity as a phenomenon seems to be elusive among scholars.

As David Bohm (1998, p. 01) asserts in his work On Creativity; ‘Creativity is, in my view, something that it is impossible to define in words. How, then, can we talk about it? This statement, whilst possibly glib in its succinctness and admittedly presented here without proper reference to context, goes a long way to explain the frustration felt throughout academia regarding the subject of creativity not only as a definable term, but as a motivation, a talent and indeed an attainable skill. Throughout the majority of investigation into the subject there has been a series of recurring themes. The focus of research throughout the range of scholastic disciplines has been drawn toward links between academic achievement, multi-linguistic ability, intellect and cognitive function as common definitive traits.

To appreciate why such efforts have been, and continue to be, applied to the research of creativity it is also important to comprehend the positive aspects of creative endeavour and the advantageous corollaries associated with such. It is widely regarded that an individual or thing that is creative has the ability to make a positive impact on a situation. Creativity in the field of medicine or science lead to innovations that can improve people’s standard of living or understanding of how to deal with issues or problems.

In the arts it can lead to new strands of genre or style, all of which are considered to be beneficial in the pursuit of a richly expressed and purposeful society. The study of creativity itself is fairly recent in academic terms although in a short time quite a comprehensive body of work has been produced. Sturnberg (1999) cites six reasons (under the acknowledgement that more may exist) as to why valid efforts to explain creativity have taken so long to emerge in psychological academia.

According to Steinberg these ‘road-blocks’ are: a) the origins of the study of creativity in a tradition of mysticism and spirituality, which seems indifferent or even possibly counter to the scientific spirit: (b) the impression conveyed by pragmatic, commercial approaches to creativity that its study lacks a basis in psychological theory or verification through psychological research: (c) early work on creativity that was theoretically and methodologically apart from the mainstream of theoretical and empirical psychology, resulting in creativity sometimes being seen as peripheral to the central concerns of the field of psychology as a whole: (d) problems with the definition of and criteria for creativity that seemed to render the phenomenon either elusive or trivial: (e) approaches that have tended to view creativity as an extraordinary result of ordinary structures or processes, so that it has not always seemed necessary to have any separate study of creativity: (f) unidisciplinary approaches to creativity that have tended to view a part of creativity as the whole phenomenon, often resulting in what we believe is a narrow vision of creativity and a perception that creativity is not as encompassing as it truly is. (Sturnberg 1999, p. 04)

These grounds hold a great deal of truth not only for the field of psychology and the scientific world but also the scientific mind. The traditional notion of scientific innovation emerging from a flash of inspiration whilst accompanied by the exclamation ‘eureka’ is often used to elucidate the thought processes of genius but the examination of such a moment is usually taken from what materialises afterwards, rather than what has led to this event to make it such.

Here Sturnberg also provides the basis of a framework on which to build a working analytical model of creativity as an entity, although the implicit suggestion that perhaps the outcome of such endeavour should mean different things in differing fields is apparent. Csikszentmihalyi (1997, p. 28) argues a more simplistic but pleasing definition of the nature of creativity, stating that ‘creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain or that transforms an existing domain into a new one’. He asserts that once a basic level of survival is assured within a human (shelter, sustenance, etc. ) there is a quantity of surplus attention which creative people will invariably use in a different way to others.

The creative individual uses this attention to become master of their particular domain or domains, or manufacture entirely new ones, sometimes to the detriment of their social standing (as they can at times be considered conceited or removed from social normality because of this behaviour). Csikszentmihalyi also affirms that just scrutinizing the subject is not enough but that the context of the creativity (the associated field or domain) should be considered too. This is reflected in his qualitative study (1997, p. 12) of 91 individuals (selected from an initial 275 candidates) chosen for their creativity on the basis of having ‘made a difference to a major domain of culture’ and they had to still be actively involved in that or another domain.

All subjects also had to be aged sixty years or older, which raises issues regarding contemporary society and its effects on creativity to which the study cannot respond. Csikszentmihalyi is largely impartial in the delivery of his study. Whilst he frequently offers contrasting viewpoints and oppositional conclusions to his findings, clear distinctions are emphasised between creativity, talent and genius, noting that most of his interviewees declined to be branded as a genius or extraordinarily talented. He claims rather that the creative individual is set apart from their peers due to the existence within their personality of contrasting characteristics such as aggression and cooperation, intelligence and naivety or passion and objectivity.

Creativity is most likely to flourish when multiple opposing traits exist in this fashion and are combined with energy, motivation and luck (p. 27). The ingenuity of the creative spirits is also acknowledged as he describes them as ‘remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals’ (p. 51). Whilst Csikszentmihalyi indicates that curiosity, passion and drive are key factors in the nurture of creativity he points out that social standing is a determining dynamic and access to facilities is crucial. He concedes that ‘no matter how gifted a person is, he or she has no chance to achieve anything creative unless the right conditions are provided by the field (p. 330)’.

He is also quick to deflate the concept of the tortured soul leading to creativity, stating that there ‘are just too many examples of a warm, stimulating family context to conclude that hardship or conflict is necessary to unleash the creative urge’ (p. 171). Gardner (1993), whilst heavily influenced by the eariler work of Csikszentmihatyi suggests a more holistic approach to the study and definition of creativity, in particular the biological circumstances in which creativity is developed and the notion of the acceptance of creativity, asserting that not only is it important for the creative work to be accepted by a wider audience but that often the creative individual is, at least in part, responsible for the promotion (and therefore, in many cases, the ultimate success) of his or her work.

If it is accepted that creativity implies innovation then reflection should be made on the prevalence of pastiche and parody throughout contemporary society and not everything that can be considered creative necessarily has a beneficial outcome for humanity (Gauntlett 2007). A virus could fit almost all contemporary definitions of something creative. It is adaptive in its operation, being able to consistently (and successfully) morph and mutate to fit its situation or surroundings. Once mutated it can then in most cases operate functionally within its host or domain with expertise and precision in a novel and innovative fashion. It does in most cases however, ultimately lead to the demise of its host.

From the virus’ point of view the process of this innovation is to be applauded as it espouses everything great that is associated with a creative spirit and aside from their fatalistic nature this could be a reason why they are studied with such fascination and awe. When this same creative spirit is seen in humans or animals for positive ends it is celebrated for its efforts to improve and enhance the conditions within its associated field or domain. Whilst a conclusive definition of creativity is perhaps impossible, in its essence creativity should be regarded as the ability to improve a situation or domain, for positive or negative intention, often in the face of obstruction, in an inventive and original manner.

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