Creatively Creative Creativity: About the Word Defining the Paradigm of our Time

15. 3. 2017

We would hardly find any mention about creativity in the fundamental text of the Euro-Atlantic civilization—the Bible. Creativity nowadays becomes the most influential concept, whose traces are present literally everywhere, indeed in domains having so far nothing in common with creativity— economics, management or urban planning. Where does this shift originate from? Does art equal creativity? And what role does creativity play in our lives?

I remember very well that moment when I realized it for the first time. At that time some years ago I bought a pack of cigarettes and what I read on the genuinely designed box confirmed my conviction that creativity is becoming the determining phenomenon of today’s world. There was written: “Camel: 100 years of creativity.”

No matter that there is no clear linkage between smoking tobacco and creating something new which has not existed before in the universe. That was just the beginning. I started to notice that the concept, the notion of creativity is starting to be incorporated in various products and services. The commercial industry, which we can consider as a world of creativity in itself, discovered that creativity as a word, as a message attracts consumer’s attention. “Citroen—Creative Technologies” or “Nike—Create Attack” and so forth. Creativity is present everywhere. It is a denominator of this era. And media are no exception. In 1995 there were precisely 17 uses of a word creativity in the Czech media, not even one in television. Twenty years later creativity in the Czech media landscape was mentioned several thousand times, in television several hundred times.

Given that advertising and media reflect and actively work with our symbolic universe, what does it tell about our values, about our preferences, about our world? What does such shift witness? And more importantly, what does it tell about the world of Arts which not so long ago has been the sole domain of creativity?

Sense of Creativity

Creativity is the most distinctive feature of mankind. It is a result of self-conscious processes of our mind, which on the one side realizes its own existence and on the other side the non-existence of certain things which can be subsequently created. Well, it is a paradox. Fascinating paradox. The mind creates something which until then has not existed. There are numerous theories trying to explain this need of human existence. In current world in which all our basic needs are saturated, the question could be answered quite easily using the well-known Maslow pyramid of needs. However, if we approach this question anthropologically, things get more complicated.

The very essence of creativity is a game that operates with various concepts and signs in our mind to make something brand new. Such activity consumes a lot of time and energy, and it moreover diverts our attention away from outer world, and that is rather dangerous to any species, man included. Why has such activity evolved, if it does not primarily lead to acquisition of new resources, food or to ensuring safety? In a nutshell, the game of creativity does not make sense neither evolutionally nor economically—at first sight.

Creativity of Human Mind

Let us go back to the concept of a game mentioned above. Thanks to a game we can discover the world without being threatened. Through a game we can train our skills which in the end give us more effective functioning in the real world, it teaches adaptability, how to work in a given social context. The most successful is a being that can find a solution in a given constellation of circumstances. To be creative equals to be successful not only as a species but as concrete human being.

What is an important feature of such activity is that it brings joy. As Aristotle stated, playing and creating things leads to understanding. Contrary to Plato who thought that play, Arts, just reflect the physical world, Aristotle explained that it is a cognitive act per se which helps us not only cope with external world, but to deepen our existence. With playing we constantly renew the world and purify ourselves. That is the core of famous Aristotelian concept of catharsis.

Unlike Romanticism which understood creativity as a prodigious capacity, Aristotle pointed out that creativity is a cognitive act. Today’s scientists agree. For instance toddles go crazy when someone throws a ball which moves up and down hitting the floor again and again. It is presumed that a toddler understands the order of action—up and down—and that such understanding provokes endless joy… Or take adults and our reaction to understanding a musical structure, you know the feeling when we are waiting for a chorus which is approaching, approaching and then…It is an awareness of the structure that makes us so excited.

The scientific understanding of creativity is quickly deepening and, sadly, provoking certain disappointment, the secret of creativity is dissolving. What about we claim Mozart had not any special skill compared to the other people playing instruments? His music is just a result of increased storage capacity for short-term memory, or higher speed of neuronal communication. In this perspective we cannot consider artists as exclusively creative people. The result is clear. We all are creative which turns upside down our understanding of artists. Creativity is not a matter of exclusiveness but inclusiveness. However, it would be a mistake to consider this shift only as a result of psychological and cognitive science. Creativity as a sociocultural phenomenon has its own history.

Creativity as an Expression of Individuality

As stated above, creativity and arts were first reflected in the ancient Greek philosophy, predominantly by Plato and Aristotle. Until then we hardly find any reflection of the phenomenon which nowadays attracts so much attention. Anyway, at the dawn of the European civilization, artists were not considered as a group of people endowed with special faculty. Usually they belonged to a lower or indeed to the lowest social class.

Their position dramatically transformed in Renaissance. Thanks to huge accumulation of capital and intellectual dynamism of this era, the presence of Arts became a sign of wealth and power. The social position of an artist was changing accordingly. From anonymous painter using the same patterns as his predecessors came an individual exploring new ways of how to represent reality. That was when an artist gained his individuality—he started to sign his painting with his name as an evidence of exceptional act of creativity. By the way, the very first case of artist’s self-portrait ever is placed in Prague—directly on the Saint Vitus Cathedral. Its architect and builder Petr Parléř represented himself with a bust at the end of 14th century.

The aura of artist gifted with prodigious power was culminating in Romanticism. At that moment a picture of man halfway mad emerged. The best example is the case of Beethoven—a suffering genius enriching the entire humankind by creating exceptional pieces of art. His famous image with ruffled hair was later incorporated in the image of Einstein and later to the image of creative young man usually working in advertising industry. What a trajectory of the image of creativity in the Euro-Atlantic civilization.

But let’s go back to the artistic creativity. There has been several works trying to explain the success of concrete artists and to determine general features of such stories. For instance Howard Gardner, among other academicians, has focused on the artists of 17th century. The exemplary artist originated from the milieu lying outside the center of power and wealth, from a family education. There was always social support, a group of peers sharing the same interest. After many years of committed apprenticeship he came up with ground-breaking artistic idea. Such story was always delineated with self-confidence, stubbornness and exceptional hard work, or rather, just simply, it was a story of incredible motivation and self-discipline.

In the eyes of many theoreticians dealing with a question of creativity and success, the exceptional stories of Mozart or Beatles were not connected with some exceptional capacity or skill, it was rather a matter of hard training. Indeed it was counted that person wanting to reach the top has to train at least ten thousand hours in total. If Beatles had not spent several hundred hours playing in Hamburg’s clubs, would they sound different? Furthermore, there is a resonating question of cultural milieu. If Gustav Mahler was not born and hadn’t grown up in a house with a pub where people were constantly singing, would his symphonies have different sound and atmosphere?

Creativity is a fascinating cocktail of individual, social and cultural influences which enable the right person in the right place at the right time to create something ground-breaking.

Creativity as Result of Sociocultural Context

If we approach nature of creativity this way, we find out that our civilization has creativity in its very genetic code. It was the boom of creativity which accounts for those eras of high cultural and economic dynamism. Peter Hall in its famous seminal book Cities and Civilisations showed that we can understand history of the key European cities as Berlin, Paris, Florence or London, as the stories of creative cities being open to experiments and cultural transitions. And it is on this subject that the famous intellectual star Richard Florida, author of The Rise of Creative Class, did an experiment. Given that creative people are more open to experiments, more extroverted and neurotic, he tried to determine with his team the global cities which have similar features as creative people have, or rather to determine the personality of various cities around the globe. The results are not surprising. The places which are open to experience or are extroverted are the most creative ones, luring the most creative people and businesses. Creative environment, either on small scale (organizations, companies), or on large scale (cities, regions), is the essential prerequisite for success. Ask people why they move to London, San Francisco, Austin, Copenhagen or Berlin (to just name some of the most attractive places to live).

In these cities the so-called creative industries account for around 10% of entire economy, their economic dynamic is several times faster than the rest of economy. In London, the world’s unbeatable creative capital, is based major part of European media companies, advertising industry and music industry. That is why Madonna and Björk share the same city.

Creative Economy

Evidently creativity as a concept, as a framework for reflection, spreads literally everywhere. The most surprising and the most significant domain of its influence represents economics. Creativity as a principle, creativity as a destructive force, first described by Schumpeter (in the past decade everyone seems to love him and quote him), has started to be considered as the most competitive asset. Its core lies in creative economy which basically comprises all sectors generating copyright: cultural industries (music, film and publishing), visual arts, performing arts, video games, design, advertising, architecture, crafts, fashion, research and development. In the eyes of many respected economists and businessmen, these industries are the industries of tomorrow where is good to invest money. That is why Facebook bought the service called Instagram, which enables to transform and share pictures, nothing more. Price? One billion dollars.

The Peril of Endless Games

If we sought the most determining cause of expansion of creativity, it would certainly be the digital revolution. Sharing and renting the contents have changed the rules of the game. Nowadays, since more or less everyone has access to information—the information ownership is no longer a competitive asset, to creatively operate with it is what makes you a winner. And the more we share the more we have to be creative to succeed. Digital sharing revealed how creative the human beings are. Be new, be original, be surprising— that is what counts. Social networks and mainly Youtube, Instagram are one huge playing field full of creative people.

To create, as we showed at the beginning of the article, is to renew our world. Creating something is in a way a return to innocence, which consists in free play with things. It is a return to childhood when we did not need to worry about the consequences. That is the essence of creativity. The question is, whether this endless creativity and its lightness cannot threaten our civilization and its self-awareness.

Mario Kubaš

Mario Kubaš is a culture manager, publicist and a university lecturer. He teaches cultural economy and media presentation at University of Economics, Prague, as well as at foreign universities. He is a co-founder of e-learning website, which provides education for culture managers.

Share this on social media

Support Aspen Institute

The support of our corporate partners, individual members and donors is critical to sustaining our work. We encourage you to join us at our roundtable discussions, forums, symposia, and special event dinners.

These web pages use cookies to provide their services. You get more information about the cookies after clicking on the button “Detailed setting”. You can set the cookies which we will be able to use, or you can give us your consent to use all the cookies by clicking on the button “Allow all”. You can change the setting of cookies at any time in the footer of our web pages.
Cookies are small files saved in your terminal equipment, into which certain settings and data are saved, which you exchange with our pages by means of your browser. The contents of these files are shared between your browser and our servers or the servers of our partners. We need some of the cookies so that our web page could function properly, we need others for analytical and marketing purposes.