Het concept ‘creativiteit’ nog wat nader belicht

Het concept creativiteit zoals wij dat nu kennen is vrij jong.

In The western cultural model of creativity komen een aantal opvattingen over creativiteit naar voren die vrij algemeen gedeeld worden, of in ieder geval nog van invloed zijn, in het westen. De meeste daarvan blijken even wijdverbreid als onwaar. In onderstaand stuk gaat Sawyer verder in op opvattingen rond creativiteit, bijv. over de creativiteit van kinderen, de zelfontplooiing die creativiteit brengt, de relatie tussen originaliteit en creativiteit en wie zich creatief mag noemen.

Contemporary Western cultural models of creativity often include the following elements, in addition to the ten core beliefs I identified in Chapter 1.

Children and creativity

Most of us have heard it said that all children are naturally creative, and that all adults would be, too, if formal schooling hadn’t interfered and smothered our natural creative impulse. In the lead article in a 1992 issue of the Utne Reader, Anne Cushman wrote, “For most of us, the extravagant creativity of childhood is soon crushed by the demands of parents, schools, and society” (p. 53).

This belief originated in the 19th-century Romantic-era belief that children are more pure, closer to nature, and that society gradually corrupts them as they grow to learn its customs and ways. These ideas about childhood didn’t exist before the 19th century. In the early 20th century, modern artists like Kandinksy, Klee, Miro, and Dubuffet looked to children’s art and often imitated a childlike style in their paintings (see Chapter 16, p. 310).

Creativity as self-discovery

Another common conception of creativity in the contemporary United States originated in the 1950s with the humanist psychologists, and is today often associated with the “New Age” movement: creativity is a form of self-discovery, therapy, and self-knowledge. It’s quite common for famous creators to share the widespread cultural beliefs typical of their cultures. Composer

Aaron Copland said that “each added work brings with it an element of self-discovery. I must create in order to know myself, and since self-knowledge is a never ending search, each new work is only a part-answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ and brings with it the need to go on to other and different part-answers” (Copland, 1952, p. 41). As one classically trained singer said, “If you choose a musical life, you have to recognize that you’re not setting up something that you are going to do, but you’re cultivating and fulfilling something that you are” (quoted in Berman, 2003, p. 20). Artists with this conception of creativity often speak of the courage required to pursue creative activity (an idea closely associated with existentialist Rollo May, 1959,1969). In the New Age worldview, delving deep and discovering one’s true self is one of the most highly valued endeavors, but it’s also considered to be risky and difficult, a spiritual journey that results in personal transformation.

The democratic view of creativity

“Creative”, “Creation”, “Creativity” are some of the most overused and ultimately debased words in the language. Stripped of any special significance by a generation of bureaucrats, civil servants, managers and politicians, lazily used as political margarine to spread approvingly and inclusively over any activity with a non-material element to it, the word “creative” has become almost unusable. Politics and the ideology of ordinariness, the wish not to put anyone down, the determination not to exalt the exceptional … have seen to that. – Tusa (2003, pp.5-6)

The American ideology of democracy is the deep-rooted belief that everyone is equal (Menand, 1998; Rothstein, 1997; Stein, 1974). Many Americans today use “creative” as a complimentary term of praise. This ideology leads to a fear of making value-laden distinctions, a tendency to believe that everyone is creative, and that no one should judge what counts as good art, or even what counts as “art” (Wallach, 1997; Weiner, 2000). This ideology partly accounts for the resistance to introducing the sociocultural notion of “appropriateness” into creativity.

The humanist account of creativity as a form of universal self-actualization aligns naturally with American democratic ideals (Weiner, 2000, p. 106) and with the legendary American belief in the value of repeated self-reinvention, a belief that undergirds the self-help industry. As Weiner (2000) observed, many of the “how to” books about creativity today “move almost seamlessly between business innovation and personal self-help, between problem-solving and self-expression” (p. 106).

This ideology aligns well with individualist definitions of creativity, but not with sociocultural definitions. Science succeeds only because of the active involvement of a national network of critical review by journal editors, grant reviewers, and department chairs. The art world also requires that distinctions be made, that criteria be applied, and that selection and evaluation take place (Menand, 1998; Rothstein, 1997).

Creativity as originality

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp submitted a new work to be considered for an exhibition in New York: a simple urinal turned on its back, and signed with a fictitious name “R. Mutt.” The exhibition’s judges rejected the work and it wasn’t displayed, yet soon after it was purchased by a wealthy collector, and today it remains one of the seminal works of 20th-century art, considered by some to be the origin of modern art. Duchamp’s urinal challenged a core feature of our creativity definitions: a work should be original and unique. After Duchamp’s shocking work, other artists began to experiment with the conventions of art itself, and art became reflexive, often commenting on itself and on the art world. The Dadaists experimented with many conventions of art: materials, techniques, durability, authenticity, even the importance of the “work” itself. They explicitly rejected any definition of art—as beautiful, tasteful, original, or spiritually inspired—and at times they tried to shock and disgust viewers.

In the United States, we tend to equate creativity with novelty and originality. But the high value that we place on novelty isn’t shared universally in all cultures. In performance, for example, we find that in almost all cultures—including our own—improvisation is allowed only in informal performances; in formal settings, in contrast, improvisation is not allowed (Sawyer, 2003c). Formal performances must follow the movements of the dance, or the words of the script, verbatim. In most cultures, rituals forbid improvisation. This seems to be related to the power of ritual; a ritual can perform its supernatural function only if performed exactly, and a divergence from the appropriate dance or script would result in an ineffective ritual (see Chapter 19). In a traditional U. S. Christian wedding, the religious official is expected to say “I now pronounce you husband and wife”; an unexpected creative improvisation such as “I exclaim that you are now joined for life” or even “From henceforth you will be married” would be disturbing, generally not welcomed by the participants and audience (Sawyer, 2001a).

Traditional cultures tend to produce aesthetic objects that people in the United States associate with “craft” rather than “art,” in part because they’re typically functional objects—clothing, baskets, water vessels, hunting weapons. These artifacts have often been collected in the West, but not always by art museums—more typically they’re found in “natural history” museums. We don’t value these objects as highly because they seem to be mostly imitative, and our conception of creativity is focused almost exclusively on originality. But imitation is a long-established, deep-rooted form of cultural transmission, even in European fine arts (Delbanco, 2002; Gardner, 1973; Wicklund, 1989). For many centuries, and in many different societies, the ability to imitate and reproduce the acknowledged masters was highly valued, and developing this skill through practice was how one learned one’s craft. Yet as Nicholas Delbanco, a director of an MFA program in writing, noted, “We’ve grown so committed as a culture to the ideal of originality that the artist who admits to working in the manner of another artist will likely stand accused of being second-rate” (2002, p. 59).

There are many creative’ domains that require individuals to insert as little of themselves as possible into the work. In translating a novel or poem into a different language, the translator is unavoidably creative; this is reflected by the fact that the translator receives attribution, and his or her name is published in the work next to that of the original author. But the ideal translator is one who most faithfully retains the creative spirit of the original, thereby keeping his or her own contribution to the translation as minimal as possible. Dubbing a foreign movie into one’s own language requires that the translator develop a version of the original line that can most easily be spoken in the time that the foreign actor’s mouth is moving, and it also requires the voice-over actors to match their delivery to the moving image. As with translation, the goal of the creator here is to keep his or her own contribution as minimal as possible. Although these are unquestionably creative activities, they are activities in which individual inspiration and originality would be detrimental to the work. Our culture tends to consider such activities to be less creative—exactly because the creator is more constrained.

All creativity includes elements of imitation and tradition; there’s no such thing as a completely novel work. To explain creativity, we have to examine the balance of imitation and innovation, and the key role played by convention and tradition.

Creativity as fine art, not craft

European cultures place a high value on the fine arts—those creative products that have no function other than pleasure. Craft objects are less worthy; because they serve an everyday function, they’re not purely creative. But this division is culturally and historically relative. Most contemporary high art began as some sort of craft (Baxandall, 1972; Harris, 1966; Martindale, 1972). The composition and performance of what we now call “classical music” began as a form of craft music satisfying required functions in the Catholic mass, or the specific entertainment needs of royal patrons. For example, chamber music really was designed to be performed in chambers – small intimate rooms in wealthy homes – often as background music, the same way people today might turn on the stereo while they read or eat a meal. The “dances” composed by famous composers originally did indeed accompany dancing. But today, with the contexts and functions they were composed for long gone, we consume these works as fine art.

To take a famous example, photography is now considered an art; photographs are in the collections of all the major museums. But when the technique of photography was invented in 1839, it was considered a new technology and not a new art form. In 1844, the first major exhibition of daguerreotypes was not grouped with the artworks, but was in the Salon de l’Industrie Française. Between 1839 and 1890, photography was a mass market—focused on portraits—and there were very few aesthetic concerns (DenoyeUe, 2002, p. 41). In 1852, the first exhibition of photographs with aesthetic intent was displayed at the Society of Arts in London, but these photographers remained marginalized—no market, no recognition—and photography, in the eyes of the art world, remained only a mechanical technique. Artists of the time were convinced that photography could never become an art, because the photograph wasn’t created by human hands, like painting or sculpture.

How did photography became an art? An individualist would hypothesize that either those technicians working with the new tools gradually became more aesthetically skilled, or that established artists like painters and sculptors learned how to use the new technology and then applied their aesthetic abilities there. But what actually happened was that photographers themselves did not change at all; rather, the sociocultural system around them changed.

In 1890, Kodak introduced a cheap consumer camera that everyone could afford. This put the portrait studios out of business; the newly unemployed photographers needed a way to distinguish between what they did and this new popular photography. The movement of pictorialism was the response, with photographers attempting to imitate the artistic processes of painting; rather than reproducible photos, they worked directly on the negatives and other materials of the process. They presented their works in art galleries, next to paintings. The elements of an art world began to form; collegial groups called “photo clubs,” a journal called Camera Work, and shows and openings. However, art photography remained marginalized; their were no markets, buyers, or collectors, and museums were not interested in adding photos to their collections. Pictorialism eventually died out with the onset of the World War I. An art form can’t survive without a market, venues for display, and collectors.

After World War I, when some painters began to make photographs that we now think of as art, those painters did not themselves consider their photography to be art. Man Ray, whom we remember today primarily for his photos, considered himself to be a painter. Brassai, who wanted to become an artist, didn’t believe that his photography realized that desire. Although demand for photographic skill grew with the expansion of daily newspapers and the demand for wartime news, documentary photographs in newspapers often did not even have a signature.

It wasn’t until 1960 that a market for photographic art began to form in the United States. This development coincided with a rejection of many traditional notions of art: that it was the work of the hand, that each work was a unique creation. Prices remained modest, but collectors began to emerge, and finally, in the 1970s, a true art market was established, with control over the originality and rarity of the works (limited-edition prints), expositions, galleries, and museums. The most valuable prints are those where the negatives are lost; for this reason, some contemporary photographers destroy their negatives after making a predetermined number of prints. Where negatives remain available and unlimited prints could, in principle, be made, the market distinguishes between recent and “vintage” prints. Such a market requires experts who are able to look at a print and distinguish which year it was made from the negative.

In sum, it was not until the 1970s, well over 100 years after photography was invented, that photography took on the characteristics associated with art: the valuation of originality and uniqueness; the system of galleries, museums, and collectors; the supporting network of experts to evaluated value and confirm authenticity (Newhall, 1964).

Photography became an art only after the social system surrounding the activity became artlike, adopting the values and conventions of other established arts (Becker, 1982). Even today, the photos that conform more closely to the values of the art world are worth more—those made by the plasticians, who, like the pictorialists, produce unique prints by manipulating the developing process by hand (coloring a black-and-white photo, for example), and who create ephemeral scenes put together for the sole purpose of being photographed, only then to be disassembled.

The shift from craft to art happens over and over through history. It’s always a social process, not a result of individual talent alone. As we learned earlier in this chapter, prior to the 15th century, painting was considered to be a craft and not an art, though this viewpoint shifted in the 15th century (Baxandall, 1972). To explain changing conceptions of creativity, the sociocultural approach is particularly valuable.

Who creates?

The individualist definition associates creativity with the human mind, and associates the study of creativity with psychology. When we look for the creator of a created product, we instinctively look for a person (Kasof, 1995). The sociocultural definition emphasizes, in contrast, that creativity doesn’t only emerge from human minds; many natural and social processes can generate appropriate novelty.’ These two definitions are complementary; our exploration of cognitive creativity can gain many insights from these other sources of creativity.


Group creativity

When we see a created product, we assume that a single person created it. In this, we aren’t that different from those theologians of the 17th century who assumed that a complex object like a watch or an animal must have had a single intelligent creator (Skinner, 1968). But many created products are created by groups, organizations, and entire societies. In the modern era of mass production, the wristwatch isn’t created by any single individual, but by a complex organization involving computer-aided design systems, microchips, factories in third-world countries, and international systems of distribution, manufacturing, and trade (see Chapters 12 and 13).

A jazz performance requires an entire jazz ensemble—for example, a drummer, a bass player, a pianist, and a horn player. The performance emerges from the interactions of four individuals working collaboratively; there’s no way that such a performance could be created by a single, solitary individual. Of course, we can speak of the creativity of the drummer or of the saxophonist, but we can also speak of the creativity of the ensemble as a unit. And the group’s creativity isn’t a simple sum of the creative talents of the individual members; the group’s performance is greater than the sum of its parts. Some combinations of musicians work well, and others don’t; the same drummer might sound brilliant in one ensemble, yet only mediocre in another. To explain group creativity, we can’t limit our focus to individual creativity; we must also consider group dynamics (Sawyer, 2003c).

Theater performances are ensemble performances, with an entire cast of characters. Although the cast is performing from a script written by a playwright, and has been guided by a director through countless rehearsals, the quality of each night’s performance varies due to the group dynamics among the members of the cast. This group dynamic is carried to an extreme in improvisational theater, when the actors do not begin with a script or a plot, but rather create all of these dramatic elements on stage in front of a live audience. In this kind of group improvisation, no one can predict in advance what will happen. Even the best groups, filled with extremely talented actors, fall flat much of the time; a brilliant performance on Friday night might be followed by a dud on Saturday (Sawyer, 2003d).

Jazz and theater performances are created by groups, not by individuals. To explain group creativity, we have to focus on the processes of collaboration among group members. These are topics for Chapter 12 (group creativity). Chapter 18 (music), and Chapter 19 (acting).

Societal creativity

Who created the systems that underlie the U.S. economy—the trading mechanisms of the stock market, the legal system and the government oversight organizations that administer the market, the surplus capital that feeds the market? This is a trick question: no single person created these complex systems. Not even a single group or team created them; the systems emerged over decades and centuries, with contributions and modifications throughout by countless individuals and groups. The U.S. economy is a creation of the entire society, and it emerged over many life spans.

Cultural historians have attempted to explain why some societies, in some historical periods, seem to be more creative overall than others. In Renaissance Florence, an incredible creative explosion resulted in novel products that we still admire today, in architecture, sculpture, painting, and science (see p. 214). But no one creator was responsible for this burst of activity; the Florentine Renaissance was an emergent, collective, social phenomenon, and to explain creativity at the social level of analysis, we have to draw on social sciences like sociology, economics, and political science. We’ll examine societal creativity in Chapters 11,12, and 13.

Bron: Sawyer, R. K. (2012) Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. Oxford University Press. [Chapter 5]

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