Creativity – Part One – Definitions and Innateness

Yep, that’s right, I’m fearlessly tackling the big issues today. This is one of the biggest. Where does creativity itself come from? Does everyone have it but some don’t develop it? Is it innate, a genetic ability that some are born with? The result of borderline insanity? Childhood trauma coming forth? All just imitation–there’s nothing new under the sun? Is a creative writer working out problems in his own life through fiction, ie a type of therapy? Is there a link between creativity and intuition? Is it distilled randomness, and does that phrase actually mean anything? Does a creative writer take in everything he sees and churn it up, then regurgitate? (ew)

First, let’s define our terms. What is creativity? Almost everyone I know or have heard about has something they claim for a creative outlet. Often it’s of the ‘tinkertoy’ variety, like my jewelry crafting: putting together elements that already existed (beads in my case) to make a finished product (say, a necklace). Now there’s some creativity to that, because if another person made the necklace it might come out quite differently. Nevertheless, for this post series I want to define creativity as making something out of nothing.

It could be argued that writing is also a tinkertoy process; after all, there are a finite number of words in the English language, and they are the building blocks. However, writing goes far beyond the necklace. Yes, the building blocks are words, which we all share. But the very least of what is created, in a story, are characters, settings, imagery and turns of phrase which did not exist before.

It could also be argued, ad nauseum, that these are also chopped up and reconnected bits of things that are found in other fiction: characters being amalgams of people you know, or versions of yourself, for example. But while it may be a gradation, not a line, I think somewhere along the way the process of writing stops being craft and becomes art. It’s more than putting beads together to make a necklace. This is a necklace that sings and shows pictures and dances and grows warm and sinks into your soul to set up housekeeping. Pretty good necklace.

So is it innate? Is there a genetic predisposition to creativity? Some people do seem to do it a lot more than others. I think there is a genetic predisposition, given that humanity seems more creative than its nearest relative, the chimpanzee. It seems that every genetic line has the same amount of creativity. I don’t seem to find a ‘commonsense’ belief that German stock is more creative than Arabic, or that Negroid stock tends more toward paintings and Chinese more toward singing. Every group, culture and race has its singers, its writers, its artists, its dancers. New art forms seem to have their proponents from every area as well. That doesn’t let out the possibility of some individuals being predisposed more toward creative endeavors than others, just as some are more predisposed to being six foot three than others.

None of this, however, disproves a theory that everyone has the same amount of creative ability, a gift of our adaptations to language, intelligence and flexibility, perhaps. If that’s true, then some of us might not develop it as much as others, by which I don’t mean that they are somehow truncated, abused or disabled. There’s a lot of room for personal preference, for the paths of individual lives to take different form.

What do you think? Is creativity innate? If so, is it everyone, or just a few? I’d love to hear from someone who considers himself completely increative, and whether he feels disabled in some way. Is there a sense that everyone else has an in-joke you don’t understand? Or is it just that many people seem to waste their time on one frivolous pursuit or another?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I will hear from someone who considers himself increative. (Uncreative?) This forum selects for the text-oriented, and mine is normally found on searches about writing. Still, it would be interesting!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 11:37:43

    Hi Kathleen… I have to disagree with your definition for starters. In my experience (teaching creativity applied to advertising for a long time) there is no such thing as creating something out of nothing. There is always something, a previous object or a previous idea or two completely different things/ideas that no one connected before…, but it never comes out of “nothing”.

    Now, trying to answer your question: yes there are some people more creative than others, but creativity is not innate or genetic, it can be developed. The reason some are more creative than others is related to their own development, the information that their brain stores, the need (or lack of it) for such creativity, basically their psyche, their environment and their needs.

    Also you have to consider that while creativity is directly related to art is not the only place where you can see it. Some people may be very creative in other areas than art (business for example).

    Can we all be more creative? yes, being the key word “more”…. 🙂

    Last but not least, you may be interested in this study from Europe about “Fostering creativity in Higher Education”. Trying to define creativity, they made a difference between creative process and creative outcome… something that also is important to have in mind!

  2. asherose
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 12:53:00

    Thanks very much, Sandra, for the comment. I’m not sure we disagree, really. I meant the phrase ‘something from nothing’ to show contrast between the kind of work I do as a writer and the kind of work I do as a jewelcrafter, putting together existing elements without significant change, ‘tinkertoys’. I would be the first to agree that the results don’t have any root in previous objects or ideas. Thanks for helping me clarify this. I hope you stop back by for parts two and three, which go into this a little more!

    You’re right also in saying that art isn’t the only place where creativity comes into play. It’s just where I’m coming from, myself. I’m terrible with business.

    Thanks also for the study you pointed me to! I liked it a lot.

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