I started Creating Brains.com because I needed to read it. I have always thought of myself as creative but through years of having little children underfoot and family-size to-do lists my creative energy shrunk. Still I read widely and went to graduate school. Then one sunny afternoon in May my oldest daughter died suddenly and cosmic entropy ensued. Several years later I had to admit I was no longer creative. How could I be? I could not even remember my last novel thought. One dark night while in the hospital expecting my last child I began this blog. I read and wrote about Creativity every day for one year. I poured-through Applied Creativity, Biography, History, Neuroscience, Creativity Theory and insights from contemporary highly Creative people on how to live the Creative Life—from Scientists, Architects, Writers and Humanitarians. Along the way I tinkered with practicable plans to recover for myself and my still-young children what I once thought core to human nature– the capacity to Create beyond biology.
The first book I read and claim (after reading hundreds of books on and around this topic) as my favorite, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity, supplied the original working definition for this blog. Csikszentmihalyi defines Creativity as follows:
Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.
The definition of a creative person is: someone whose thoughts or actions change a domain, or establish a new domain…a domain cannot be changed without explicit or implicit consent of a field responsible for it.
Not everyone will agree with Csikszentmihalyi’s definition, of course, but I love it most because it inspires as well as defines. Others have tried to define Creativity. Check out some of my favorite attempts below:
- Any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one with explicit or implicit consent of the field responsible for it. (Used by M. Csikszentmihalyi)
- Makings things from scratch. (Used by Twyla Tharp– choreographer)
- Building on and with the works of others. (If I have seen further, it is only because I stand on the shoulders of giants.– Isaac Newton).
- Self-expression with no editing. (Expressing with precision all the gold sparks the soul gives off. –Joan Miro, painter)
So what is Creativity then? Is it an effect? Is it a cause? And why must we (still) define it anyway?
I’ll start with my last question. Creativity must be defined and the definition must be accepted as standard so the topic may be studied scientifically rather than philosophically. Sixty years ago historians wondered how to improve the study of history. History was still a discipline of philosophy at the time– inexact, subjective. It lacked scientific definition and definitiveness. This is no longer the case. Twenty-first century historians work governed by academic definitions and parameters, more science-like than philosophical. There are down-sides to definitiveness for sure. But the study of History has progressed like never before since this transition began in the late 1970′s. The study of Creativity would benefit from a similar transition. The Science of Creativity is becoming more, well, scientific. With hi-tech research tools– fMRIs and EEGs, scientists hone in on the particulars of the Creative process. But a general, universally accepted, definition of Creativity is still at large. Eventually we’ll want to unite all we know about Creativity from history, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience and more but for now a definition seems the next crucial step.
Am I right? Let me know what you think.
And now back to my first question– What is Creativity after all? Do you agree with Csikszentmihalyi or Miro?
Do you have a definition to contribute? (If yes, write a new definition in the comments section below).
I love comments! I can’t wait to read what you think.
*Note: I play with my children, work on a book-length project, teach college History and am about to return to grad school to complete my PhD in Early Modern European History so I do not post on Creating Brains.com very often these days. Still, the topic of Creativity fascinates me — I will be back and more often soon (or at least sort-of-soon).