Creativity is a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.” An alternative, more everyday conception of creativity is that it is simply the act of making something new.
Although intuitively a simple phenomenon, creativity is in fact quite complex. It has been studied from numerous perspectives, including psychology, social psychology, psychometrics, artificial intelligence, philosophy, history, economics, and business. Unlike many phenomena in science, there is no single, authoritative perspective, or definition of creativity; nor is there a standardized measurement technique. Creativity has been attributed variously to divine intervention or spiritual inspiration, cognitive processes, the social environment, personality traits, and chance (“accident” or “serendipity”). It has been associated with genius, mental illness and humor. Some say it is a trait we are born with; others say it can be taught with the application of simple techniques. Although popularly associated with art and literature, it is also an essential part of innovation and invention, important in professions such as business, economics, architecture, industrial design, science, and engineering. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ambiguity and multi-dimensional nature of creativity, entire industries have been spawned from the pursuit of creative ideas and the development of creativity techniques.
This mysterious phenomenon, though undeniably important and constantly visible, seems to lie tantalizingly beyond the grasp of scientific investigation. Yet in religious or spiritual terms it is the very essence of human nature. Creativity, understood as the ability to utilize everything at hand in nature to transform our living environment and beautify our lives, is what distinguishes human beings from all other creatures. This is one way that human beings are said to be in the image of God: they are second creators, acting in a manner analogous to God, the original Creator.
Moreover, all people, regardless of their intellectual level, are co-creators of perhaps the most important thing—their own self. While God provides each person with a certain endowment and circumstance, it is up to each individual to make what he will of his life by how he or she choses to live it.
Definitions of Creativity
“Creativity, it has been said, consists largely of re-arranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know.” George Keller
“The problem of creativity is beset with mysticism, confused definitions, value judgments, psychoanalytic admonitions, and the crushing weight of philosophical speculation dating from ancient times.” Albert Rothenberg
More than 60 different definitions of creativity can be found in the psychological literature. The etymological root of the word in English and most other European languages comes from the Latin creatus, literally “to have grown.”
Perhaps the most widespread conception of creativity in the scholarly literature is that creativity is manifested in the production of a creative work (for example, a new work of art or a scientific hypothesis) that is both “novel” and “useful.” Colloquial definitions of creativity are typically descriptive of activity that results in producing or bringing about something partly or wholly new; in investing an existing object with new properties or characteristics; in imagining new possibilities that were not conceived of before; and in seeing or performing something in a manner different from what was thought possible or normal previously.
A useful distinction has been made by Rhodes between the creative person, the creative product, the creative process, and the creative “press” or environment. Each of these factors are usually present in creative activity. This has been elaborated by Johnson, who suggested that creative activity may exhibit several dimensions including sensitivity to problems on the part of the creative agent, originality, ingenuity, unusualness, usefulness, and appropriateness in relation to the creative product, and intellectual leadership on the part of the creative agent.
Boden noted that it is important to distinguish between ideas which are psychologically creative (which are novel to the individual mind which had the idea), and those which are historically creative (which are novel with respect to the whole of human history). Drawing on ideas from artificial intelligence, she defines psychologically creative ideas as those which cannot be produced by the same set of generative rules as other, familiar ideas.
Often implied in the notion of creativity is a concomitant presence of inspiration, cognitive leaps, or intuitive insight as a part of creative thought and action. Pop psychology sometimes associates creativity with right or forehead brain activity or even specifically with lateral thinking.
Some students of creativity have emphasized an element of chance in the creative process. Linus Pauling, asked at a public lecture how one creates scientific theories, replied that one must endeavor to come up with many ideas, then discard the useless ones.
History of the term and the concept
The way in which different societies have formulated the concept of creativity has changed throughout history, as has the term “creativity” itself.
The ancient Greeks, who believed that the muses were the source of all inspiration, actually had no terms corresponding to “to create” or “creator.” The expression “poiein” (“to make”) sufficed. They believed that the inspiration for originality came from the gods and even invented heavenly creatures – the Muses – as supervisors of human creativity.
According to Plato, Socrates taught that inspired thoughts originate with the gods; ideas spring forth not when a person is rational, but when someone is “beside himself,” when “bereft of his senses.” Since the gods took away reason before bestowing the gift of inspiration, “thinking” might actually prevent the reception of divinely inspired revelations. The word “inspiration” is based on a Greek word meaning “the God within.” The poet was seen as making new things—bringing to life a new world—while the artist merely imitated.
In the visual arts, freedom was limited by the proportions that Polyclitus had established for the human frame, and which he called “the canon” (meaning, “measure”). Plato argued in Timaeus that, to execute a good work, one must contemplate an eternal model. Later the Roman, Cicero, would write that art embraces those things “of which we have knowledge” (quae sciuntur).
In Rome, these Greek concepts were partly shaken. Horace wrote that not only poets but painters as well were entitled to the privilege of daring whatever they wished to (quod libet audendi). In the declining period of antiquity, Philostratus wrote that “one can discover a similarity between poetry and art and find that they have imagination in common.” Callistratos averred that “Not only is the art of the poets and prosaists inspired, but likewise the hands of sculptors are gifted with the blessing of divine inspiration.” This was something new: classical Greeks had not applied the concepts of imagination and inspiration to the visual arts but had restricted them to poetry. Latin was richer than Greek: it had a term for “creating” (creatio) and for creator, and had two expressions—facere and creare—where Greek had but one, poiein. Still, the two Latin terms meant much the same thing.
Although neither the Greeks nor the Romans had any words that directly corresponded to the word creativity, their art, architecture, music, inventions, and discoveries provide numerous examples of what we would today describe as creative works. At the time, the concept of genius probably came closest to describing the creative talents bringing forth these works.
A fundamental change came in the Christian period: creatio came to designate God’s act of “creation from nothing.” Creatio thus took on a different meaning than facere (“to make”), and ceased to apply to human functions.
The influential Christian writer Saint Augustine felt that Christianity “played a leading role in the discovery of our power to create” (Albert & Runco, 1999). However, alongside this new, religious interpretation of the expression, there persisted the ancient view that art is not a domain of creativity. This is also seen in the work of Pseudo-Dionysius. Later medieval men such as Hraban the Moor, and Robert Grosseteste in the thirteenth century, thought much the same way. The Middle Ages here went even further than antiquity; they made no exception of poetry: it too had its rules, was an art, and was therefore craft, and not creativity.
Another shift occurred in more modern times. Renaissance men had a sense of their own independence, freedom, and creativity, and sought to give it voice. Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658) wrote: “Art is the completion of nature, as it were ‘a second Creator'”; … Raphael, that he shapes a painting according to his idea; Leonardo da Vinci, that he employs “shapes that do not exist in nature”; Michelangelo, that the artist realizes his vision rather than imitating nature. Still more emphatic were those who wrote about poetry: G.P. Capriano held (1555) that the poet’s invention springs “from nothing.” Francesco Patrizi (1586) saw poetry as “fiction,” “shaping,” and “transformation.”
Finally, the word “creation” appeared in the writings of the seventeenth-century Polish poet and theoretician of poetry, Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (1595-1640), known as “the last Latin poet.” In his treatise, De perfecta poesi, he not only wrote that a poet “invents,” “after a fashion builds,” but also that the poet “creates anew” (de novo creat). Sarbiewski even added: “in the manner of God” (instar Dei).
By the eighteenth century and the Age of Enlightenment, the concept of creativity was appearing more often in art theory, and was linked with the concept of imagination. There was still resistance to the idea of human creativity which had a triple source. The expression, “creation,” was then reserved for creation ex nihilo (Latin: “from nothing”), which was inaccessible to man. Second, creation is a mysterious act, and Enlightenment psychology did not admit of mysteries. Third, artists of the age were attached to their rules, and creativity seemed irreconcilable with rules. The latter objection was the weakest, as it was already beginning to be realized (for example, by Houdar de la Motte, 1715) that rules ultimately are a human invention.
The Western view of creativity can be contrasted with the Eastern view. For the Hindus, Confucius, Daoists and Buddhists, creation was at most a kind of discovery or mimicry, and the idea of creation from “nothing” had no place in these philosophies and religions.
In the nineteenth century, not only was art regarded as creativity, but “it alone” was so regarded. When later, at the turn of the twentieth century, there began to be discussion of creativity in the sciences (e.g., Jan Łukasiewicz, 1878-1956) and in nature (such as Henri Bergson), this was generally taken as the transference to the sciences of concepts proper to art.
The formal starting point of the scientific study of creativity is sometimes considered to be J. P. Guilford’s address to the American Psychological Association in 1950, which helped to popularize the topic. Since then (and indeed, before then), researchers from a variety of fields have studied the nature of creativity from a scientific point of view. Others have taken a more pragmatic approach, teaching practical creativity techniques. Three of the best-known are Alex Osborn’s brainstorming techniques, Genrikh Altshuller’s Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ); and Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking.
Creativity in psychology and cognitive science
An early, psychodynamic approach to understanding creativity was proposed by Sigmund Freud, who suggested that creativity arises as a result of frustrated desires for fame, fortune, and love, with the energy that was previously tied up in frustration and emotional tension in the neurosis being sublimated into creative activity. Freud later retracted this view.
Graham Wallas, in his work Art of Thought, published in 1926, presented one of the first models of the creative process. Wallas considered creativity to be a legacy of the evolutionary process, which allowed humans to quickly adapt to rapidly changing environments.
In the Wallas stage model, creative insights and illuminations may be explained by a process consisting of 5 stages:
- preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual’s mind on the problem and explores the problem’s dimensions),
- incubation (where the problem is internalized into the subconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening),
- intimation (the creative person gets a “feeling” that a solution is on its way),
- illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its subconscious processing into conscious awareness); and
- verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied).
Wallas’ model has subsequently been treated as four stages, with “intimation” seen as a sub-stage. There has been some empirical research looking at whether, as the concept of “incubation” in Wallas’ model implies, a period of interruption or rest from a problem may aid creative problem-solving. Ward lists various hypotheses that have been advanced to explain why incubation may aid creative problem-solving, and notes how some empirical evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that incubation aids creative problem-solving in that it enables “forgetting” of misleading clues. Absence of incubation may lead the problem solver to become fixated on inappropriate strategies of solving the problem. This work disputed the earlier hypothesis that creative solutions to problems arise mysteriously from the unconscious mind while the conscious mind is occupied on other tasks.
Guilford performed important work in the field of creativity, drawing a distinction between convergent and divergent production (commonly renamed convergent and divergent thinking). Convergent thinking involves aiming for a single, correct solution to a problem, whereas divergent thinking involves creative generation of multiple answers to a set problem. Divergent thinking is sometimes used as a synonym for creativity in psychology literature. Other researchers have occasionally used the terms “flexible” thinking or “fluid intelligence,” which are similar to (but not synonymous with) creativity.
In The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler listed three types of creative individuals: the “Artist,” the “Sage,” and the “Jester.” Believers in this trinity hold all three elements necessary in business and can identify them all in “truly creative” companies as well. Koestler introduced the concept of “bisociation”—that creativity arises as a result of the intersection of two quite different frames of reference.
In 1992, Finke proposed the “Geneplore” model, in which creativity takes place in two phases: a generative phase, where an individual constructs mental representations called preinventive structures, and an exploratory phase where those structures are used to come up with creative ideas. Weisberg argued, by contrast, that creativity only involves ordinary cognitive processes yielding extraordinary results.
Creativity and intelligence
There has been debate in the psychological literature about whether intelligence and creativity are part of the same process (the conjoint hypothesis) or represent distinct mental processes (the disjoint hypothesis). Evidence from attempts to look at correlations between intelligence and creativity from the 1950s onwards regularly suggested that correlations between these concepts were low enough to justify treating them as distinct concepts.
It has been proposed that creativity is the outcome of the same cognitive processes as intelligence, and is only judged as creativity in terms of its consequences. In other words, the process is only judged creative when the outcome of cognitive processes happen to produce something novel, a view which Perkins has termed the “nothing special” hypothesis. However, a very popular model is what has come to be known as “the threshold hypothesis,” stating that intelligence and creativity are more likely to be correlated in general samples, but that this correlation is not found in people with IQs over 120. An alternative perspective, Renculli’s three-rings hypothesis, sees giftedness as based on both intelligence and creativity.
Neurology of creativity
Neurological research has found that creative innovation requires “coactivation and communication between regions of the brain that ordinarily are not strongly connected.” Highly creative people who excel at creative innovation tend to differ from others in three ways: they have a high level of specialized knowledge, they are capable of divergent thinking mediated by the frontal lobe, and they are able to modulate neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine in their frontal lobe. Thus, the frontal lobe appears to be the part of the cortex that is most important for creativity.
Creativity and madness
Creativity has been found to correlate with intelligence and psychoticism, particularly in schizotypal individuals. To explain these results, it has been hypothesized that such individuals are better at accessing both hemispheres, allowing them to make novel associations at a faster rate. In agreement with this hypothesis, ambidexterity is also associated with schizotypal and schizophrenic individuals.
Creativity in various contexts
Creativity has been studied from a variety of perspectives and is important in numerous contexts. Most of these approaches are unidisciplinary, and it is therefore difficult to form a coherent overall view. The following sections examine some of the areas in which creativity is seen as being important.
Creativity in art and literature
Most people associate creativity with the fields of art and literature. In these fields, “originality” is considered to be a sufficient condition for creativity, unlike other fields where both “originality” and “appropriateness” are necessary.
Within the different modes of artistic expression, one can postulate a continuum extending from “interpretation” to “innovation.” Established artistic movements and genres pull practitioners to the “interpretation” end of the scale, whereas original thinkers strive towards the “innovation” pole. Note that we conventionally expect some “creative” people (dancers, actors, orchestral members, etc.) to perform (interpret) while allowing others (writers, painters, composers, etc.) more freedom to express the new and the different.
The word “creativity” conveys an implication of constructing novelty without relying on any existing constituent components (ex nihilo – compare creationism). Contrast alternative theories, for example:
- artistic inspiration, which provides the transmission of visions from divine sources such as the Muses; a taste of the Divine.
- artistic evolution, which stresses obeying established (“classical”) rules and imitating or appropriating to produce subtly different but unshockingly understandable work.
In the art, practice, and theory of Davor Dzalto, human creativity is taken as a basic feature of both the personal existence of human beings and art production.
Creativity in science, engineering and design
Creativity is also seen as being increasingly important in a variety of other professions. Architecture and industrial design are the fields most often associated with creativity, and more generally the fields of design and design research. These fields explicitly value creativity, and journals such as Design Studies have published many studies on creativity and creative problem solving.
Fields such as science and engineering have, by contrast, experienced a less explicit (but arguably no less important) relation to creativity. Simonton shows how some of the major scientific advances of the twentieth century can be attributed to the creativity of individuals. This ability will also be seen as increasingly important for engineers in years to come.
Creativity in business
Creativity, broadly conceived, is essential to all successful business ventures. Entrepreneurs use creativity to define a market, promote a product or service, and make unconventional deals with providers, partners and lenders.
Narrowly speaking, there is a growing sector of “creative industries” — capitalistically generating (generally non-tangible) wealth through the creation and exploitation of intellectual property or through the provision of creative services.
Amabile argues that to enhance creativity in business, three components were needed: Expertise (technical, procedural, and intellectual knowledge), Creative thinking skills (how flexibly and imaginatively people approach problems), and Motivation (especially intrinsic motivation). Nonaka, who examined several successful Japanese companies, similarly saw creativity and knowledge creation as being important to the success of organizations. In particular, he emphasized the role that tacit knowledge has to play in the creative process.
In many cases in the context of examining creativity in organizations, it is useful to explicitly distinguish between “creativity” and “innovation.”
In such cases, the term “innovation” is often used to refer to the entire process by which an organization generates creative new ideas and converts them into novel, useful and viable commercial products, services, and business practices, while the term “creativity” is reserved to apply specifically to the generation of novel ideas by individuals, as a necessary step within the innovation process.
For example, Amabile et al. suggest that while innovation “begins with creative ideas, creativity by individuals and teams is a starting point for innovation; the first is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the second” (emphasis added).
Economic views of creativity
In the early twentieth century, Joseph Schumpeter introduced the economic theory of “creative destruction,” to describe the way in which old ways of doing things are endogenously destroyed and replaced by the new.
Creativity is also seen by economists such as Paul Romer as an important element in the recombination of elements to produce new technologies and products and, consequently, economic growth. Creativity leads to capital, and creative products are protected by intellectual property laws. Creativity is also an important aspect to understanding entrepreneurship.
The “creative class” is seen by some to be an important driver of modern economies. In his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, economist Richard Florida popularized the notion that regions with high concentrations of creative professionals such as hi-tech workers, artists, musicians, and creative people and a group he describes as “high bohemians,” tend to have a higher level of economic development.
Creativity, music and community
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Social Impact of the Arts Projectfound that the presence of arts and culture offerings in a neighborhood has a measurable impact on the strength of the community. Arts and culture not only attract creative workers, but also is a key element in the revitalization of neighborhoods, and increases social well-being. They also found that music is one of the key arts and cultural elements that attracts and retains “creative workers.” To slow down the large emigration of young cultural workers from Pennsylvania, this study proposed enhancing school-based music education and community-based musical cultural offerings. This study discovered the following traits in creative workers: individuality; creativity; technology and innovation; participation; project orientation; and eclecticism and authenticity. They found that music education helps foster all these traits to help Americans realize their creative potential. As a result, the author claimed, music education not only nurtures creativity but also plays a crucial role in the knowledge economy, and in strengthening communities.
Several attempts have been made to develop a “creativity quotient” of an individual similar to the Intelligence quotient (IQ), however these have been unsuccessful. Most measures of creativity are dependent on the personal judgement of the tester, so a standardized measure is difficult to develop.
J. P. Guilford’s group, which pioneered the modern psychometric study of creativity, constructed several tests to measure creativity:
- Plot Titles where participants are given the plot of a story and asked to write original titles.
- Quick Responses is a word-association test scored for uncommonness.
- Figure Concepts where participants were given simple drawings of objects and individuals and asked to find qualities or features that are common by two or more drawings; these were scored for uncommonness.
- Unusual Uses involves finding unusual uses for common everyday objects such as bricks.
- Remote Associations where participants are asked to find a word between two given words (such as Hand _____ Call)
- Remote Consequences where participants are asked to generate a list of consequences of unexpected events (such as loss of gravity)
Building on Guilford’s work, Torrance developed the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. They involved simple tests of divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills, which were scored on:
- Fluency The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
- Flexibility The number of different categories of relevant responses.
- Originality The statistical rarity of the responses among the test subjects.
- Elaboration The amount of detail in the responses.
Some researchers have taken a social-personality approach to the measurement of creativity. In these studies, personality traits such as independence of judgement, self-confidence, attraction to complexity, aesthetic orientation, and risk-taking are used as measures of the creativity of individuals. Other researchers have related creativity to the trait, “openness to experience.”
Daniel Pink, repeating arguments posed throughout the twentieth century, has argued that we are entering a new age where creativity is becoming increasingly important. In this “conceptual age,” we need to foster and encourage “right-directed thinking” (representing creativity and emotion) over “left-directed thinking” (representing logical, analytical thought).
The following is summary of techniques to foster creativity, including approaches developed by both academia and industry:
- Establishing purpose and intention
- Building basic skills
- Encouraging acquisitions of domain-specific knowledge
- Stimulating and rewarding curiosity and exploration
- Building motivation, especially internal motivation
- Encouraging confidence and a willingness to take risks
- Focusing on mastery and self-competition
- Promoting supportable beliefs about creativity
- Providing opportunities for choice and discovery
- Developing self-management (metacognitive skills)
- Teaching techniques and strategies for facilitating creative performance
- Providing balance
A growing number of psychologists are advocating the idea that one can learn to become more “creative.” Several different researchers have proposed approaches to support this idea, ranging from psychological-cognitive, such as:
- Osborn-Parnes’ Creative problem solving
- Purdue Creative Thinking Program;
- lateral thinking of Edward de Bono,
to the highly-structured, such as:
- Theory of Inventive Problem-Solving (TRIZ);
- Algorithm of Inventive Problem-Solving (ARIZ), both developed by the Russian scientist Genrich Altshuller;
- Computer-Aided Morphological analysis
Origins of Creativity
While scientific approaches have struggled to understand, describe, and explain the creative phenomenon, religion and philosophy has addressed the fundamental question of the origin of creativity in a number of ways.
According to many religions, God as the original creator of the world initiated the first act of creativity. Human beings, variously conceived of as made in God’s image or as manifestations of God, consequently also have the ability to create. The artist, scientist and designer takes after the creativity of God; indeed it is God who impels him or her to create. Thus the Japanese new religion Perfect Liberty Kyodan begins its precepts:
Life is art.
The whole life of man is self-expression.
The individual is an expression of God.
We suffer if we do not express ourselves. (Precepts 1-4)
In the Bible, in Genesis 1 God creates the earth and all its creatures. In the next chapter, God tells Adam, the first man, to give names to all the creatures. This act of naming was also a kind of creation, for God accepts the results:
Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)
God does whatever He will, but it is only when human beings know of it that God’s work of creation is confirmed and glorified. A human being’s ability to know, and to consciously utilize things according to his knowledge, makes him a creative being. In the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Akiba taught:
- Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God. But it was by a special love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God. (Mishnah, Avot 3.18)
All these concepts point to the idea that human beings are “co-creators” with God. The Qur’an uses the term “vicegerent”:
I will create a vicegerent on earth. (Qur’an 2:30)
Do human beings create in the way that God creates? Not if one conceives of divine creation as an act of pure speech, as in: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) Yet elsewhere Scripture describes creation as effortful. God expended such energy to create that on the seventh day he “rested from all his work which he had done.” (Genesis 2:3) To create human beings, God acted the part of a sculptor working with clay:
The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
The artist likewise works with a medium and breathes his life—his spirit, into his work. Then it can be said to be art.
In the Eastern religions, where there is no absolute distinction between God and human beings, the concept that human creativity takes after the original divine creativity is more explicit. Take this passage from the I Ching. It teaches that the creative moment cannot be forced, but requires waiting until the time is ripe, while preparing one’s mind to receive it:
- Vast indeed is the sublime Creative Principle, the Source of all, co-extensive with the heavens. It causes the clouds to come forth, the rain to bestow its bounty and all objects to flow into their respective forms. Its dazzling brilliance permeates all things from first to last; its activities, symbolized by the component lines [of the hexagram], reach full completion, each at the proper time. [The superior man], mounting them when the time is ripe, is carried heavenwards as though six dragons were his steeds! The Creative Principle functions through Change; accordingly, when we rectify our way of life by conjoining it with the universal harmony, our firm persistence is richly rewarded. (I Ching 1: The Creative)
Another religious insight is that creativity originates in a state emptiness, an unconscious state where one is not “trying” to do anything (corresponding to Wallas’s “incubation” stage.) Scriptural accounts of “creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) point to the truth that to create, we too have to begin in a state of nothingness. Thus is the first creative moment described in this Hindu text:
- This universe existed in the shape of darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it were, in deep sleep.
- Then the Divine Self-existent, himself indiscernible but making all this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with irresistible power, dispelling the darkness… created all beings. (Laws of Manu 1.5-16)
The Bible also begins creation from a moment of darkness:
- The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
In Daoism, a religion which has been the creed of most Chinese artists, creativity likewise begins from a low place, the “gate of the subtle and profound female”:
The spirit of the valley never dies.
It is called the subtle and profound female.
The gate of the subtle and profound female
Is the root of heaven and earth.
It is continuous, and seems to be always existing.
Use it and you will never wear it out. (Tao Te Ching 6, translated by Wing Tsit Chan)
Finally, according to the Baha’i Faith, the inspiration for creativity originates from communication with the spirit world, where artists and inventors on the other side continue their work and then communicate their energies to earthly artists and inventors:
- The light which these souls [of departed saints] radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like leaven which leavens the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.)
Philosophers such as Nikolai Berdyaev and Alfred North Whitehead have addressed the question of human creativity, and the problem of how anything novel can be produced if the world originated from and operates according to fixed principles. For if there are no fixed principles, then we can never understand the world or ourselves, nor have any control over our own destiny. Inevitably, their discussions of human creativity lead back to nature of God as the origin of creativity.
Nikolai Berdyaev regarded creativity as the ultimate destination of human beings. For him, the end of objectivization means the recognition of creativity as each person’s highest purpose and fulfillment, for “only he who is free, creates.” Creativity does not just mean producing a work of art. Rather it is the transformation of self and the world:
In every artistic activity a new world is created, the cosmos, a world enlightened and free.
Berdyaev’s view of creativity was not of something measurable by scientific or external means, for it is an internal aspect of human nature:
Creativity is something which proceeds from within, out of immeasurable and inexplicable depths, not from without, not from the world’s necessity. The very desire to make the creative act understandable, to find a basis for it, is failure to comprehend it. To comprehend the creative act means to recognize that it is inexplicable and without foundation.
He could see the coming of a time when our creative potential will be more developed. We will then be in a position to collaborate with God to re-create the world:
The dawn of the creative religious epoch also means a most profound crisis in man’s creativity. The creative act will create new being rather than values of differentiated culture; in the creative act life will not be quenched. Creativity will continue creation; it will reveal the resemblance of human nature to the Creator. In creativity the way will be found for subject to pass into object, the identity of subject with object will be restored. All the great creators have foreseen this turning-point. Today, in the depths of culture itself and in all its separate spheres, this crisis of creativity is ripening.
Berdyaev’s vision is of humanity overcoming the gap that separates us from God through the creative act, and in the process becoming divinized:
The third creative revelation in the Spirit will have no holy scripture; it will be no voice from on high; it will be accomplished in man and in humanity – it is an anthropological revelation, an unveiling of the Christology of man.
Whitehead Alfred North Whitehead, in his Process Theology, saw God in cosmological terms as an “actual occasion” functioning within nature, reflective of “the eternal urge of desire” that works “strongly and quietly by love,” to guide the course of things within the world into “the creative advance into novelty.” Whitehead’s philosophy of the “beginningless endless creative advance into newness” inspired what is became known as “Process New Thought.” Human beings are considered co-creators of life with God as the senior partner.
The following are the major characteristics of Process New Thought as related to creativity:
- It accepts science’s discovery of a process-relational outlook, but with a Whiteheadian recognition of the creative, living nature of the pulses or bursts of energy (called occasions of experience by Whitehead), with energy recognized as what we experience as feeling. Occasions of experience are the basic building blocks of reality.
- Life is that in which there is (a) aim (relatively free choosing of possibilities), (b) creative activity (transforming potentiality into actuality), and (c) enjoyment of the process (of creating a new unity out of the combined many coming to an occasion from the past—which is composed of a multitude of earlier choices).
- The creative process is the taking (prehending, feeling, including, absorbing) of the many units of the past and blending their influence with also-prehended divinely given possibilities, thus producing unique new creations. The job of all existence is the creation of new unities. “The many become one, and are increased by one. In their natures, entities are disjunctively ‘many’ in process of passage into conjunctive unity.” Unity is an ongoing process of unifying, not a static state of a changeless one.
- As the new many new units of reality are created, they are added to God’s awareness (prehension, inclusion), resulting in God’s endless growth.
- Living in the moment is required by serial selfhood. Since concretely one has only a moment to live, one should make the most of it. Understanding that we are new creations moment by moment can provide a powerful psychological impetus to drop old limitations and to accept divinely-given opportunities for fullest living.
- There is no unilateral creation, by God or by any other experience. All creation is co-creation. The pattern of creation by means of blending the contrasting influences of the God-given initial aim and the past is the most basic reality, that which always has been and always will be. Our task and privilege is to learn to co-create with God in the most conscious and effective ways.
Social attitudes to creativity
“The man who invented fire was probably burned at the stake.” (Ayn Rand)
Although the benefits of creativity to society as a whole have been noted, social attitudes about this topic remain divided. The wealth of literature regarding the development of creativity and the profusion of creativity techniques indicate wide acceptance, at least among academics, that creativity is desirable.
“To be creative means to become profoundly individualized thus separating one’s self from the crowd.” (Paul Palnik)
There is, however, a dark side to creativity, in that it represents a “quest for a radical autonomy apart from the constraints of social responsibility.” In other words, by encouraging creativity we are encouraging a departure from society’s existing norms and values. Expectation of conformity runs contrary to the spirit of creativity.
Nevertheless, employers are increasingly valuing creative skills. A report by the Business Council of Australia, for example, called for a higher level of creativity in graduates. The ability to “think outside the box” is highly sought after. However, the above-mentioned paradox may well imply that firms pay lipservice to thinking outside the box while maintaining traditional, hierarchical organization structures in which individual creativity is not rewarded.
Adapted from New World Encyclopedia