When we think of creativity in a general sense, we tend to imagine something along the lines of the image above, Jackson Pollock in full swing, freezing jazz on a canvas with paint. A sculptor, chipping away on a block of Carrara marble. A composer, tickling the ivories, one way or another. A writer, scratching marks on a piece of paper, or frowning at the keyboard, conjuring ghosts.
In other words, creativity, so goes the common mindset, is the act of creating something within a rather narrowly defined field of art – music, litterature, painting, sculpture, film etc. By defining it within a context of art – usually viewed as outside or apart from daily, quotidian life – we can contain it and grasp it and wrap our minds around it – and keep it where it belongs – apart.
But really, if you think about it, creativity can be applied to any human endeavor. It is, all things being equal, what makes us uniquely human – we bring into existence what was not there before – a question, an answer, a view or a perspective that is both personal and transpersonal – personal to the artist as expressing an individual opinion, and transpersonal in that other people can relate – or not – to that question or opinion, and that depends on whether or not the artist has touched the viewer in some receptive spot.
However, I think that standardised view of creativity and creator is, to put it mildly, limiting. It implies that creativity is by definition artistic, which again means that that it exists in some vacuum of a sacred, arcane vault of infinite inspiration accessible only to those lucky few who have the key to open it – the ability to create.
So artists who are able to key into the zeitgeist of any given moment in time are lionized as prophets and saints and voices of a generation and a time, and meanwhile, billions of people, everywhere on Earth, are being creative every moment of their lives, and they never know it.
Anyone can be creative. Anyone at all.
Many of us create life, for instance. We bring into being a composite of two people, who contains equal parts of both and yet is the sum entire of neither of them. That helpless little bundle of human potential called a baby is all his or her own from conception onwards, and from the moment of birth, parents are forced to be creative in taming the savage beast that emerges in their progeny at around age 2, and to keep on being creative in the way they raise their child. With any luck, the parents might – just – survive the experience.
Engineers, supposedly the most aesthetically challenged species of vocation known to humanity, are forced to be creative in their ways to solve problems of construction. It was, after all, an engineer that created an epic poem in wrought iron – the Eiffel tower. It was also engineers – armies of them, in fact – that built the roads of the Roman Empire, roads bringing trade, people and ideas.
Scientists, another group not generally considered creative in the usual sense of the word, are often forced to think “outside the box” in solving complex problems. These days, those problems were usually created by other scientists, who wanted to know what would happen if they applied a hypothesis to the real world – a creative act.
A housewife setting a bouquet of flowers on a table is being creative – by bringing a spot of beauty to a place which the moment before was just an empty expanse of wood. She can create a memory for her family, by baking that birthday cake for a child’s birthday that the child will remember long afterward as being – that cake, that moment, that instant of happiness and that realization of love in an edible form.
A friend of mine, a ferocious music fanatic, was brainwashed all his life into thinking that the only success that matters is the kind you put in the bank, an entirely alien concept to him. He spends most of his spare time in that infinite vault of endless inspiration, and his music collection gets him there, instantly, by taking him away from his limitations and the bittersweet taint of failure he smacks himself over the head with. Yet sometimes, I’ve caught him unaware, applying his inherent creativity to his view of the world he lives in.
Classical musicians, who after all play music for a living, may not think of themselves as being creative – all they do, so the thinking goes, is interpret the notes written by someone else – the composer – and read by yet another – the conductor. Yet, somewhere in that empty void between note, composer, and the irascible ego of the conductor, musicians have to put their particular stamp of “I played this!”, they have to define their own way of saying “con affetto” – with affect, with feeling – not the composer’s, not the conductor’s – but their own. That sound, that vibrato, that touch of soul is what defines that musician – and whether we as an audience realize it or not, swooning with bliss over, say, some Mozart concerto, we take it home with us and carry it into our days, made just that much brighter by the emotion we found in a musician’s style, or collectively in an orchestra’s.
Creativity, as I define it, is anything that makes us stop up, see, listen, watch and pay attention – to a thing, a phrase, a sound, a feeling, that wasn’t there a minute before. It can be art, it can be a mundane act of kindness, or a discovery that opens you and frees you.
A discovery that the world as you know it is bigger than you think, more complex than you know, more infinite than you believed it could be. It is an urge to put your own unique stamp on the world you live in – to say you lived, you saw, you thought, you did.
Lots of humans, since the beginning, did. The Paleolithic artist, scrawling ochre on a cave wall, the Roman engineer, creating a road across the Alps, the monk, creating an ode to the divine in a windswept monastery on the edge of the world, the alchemist, trying to transmute matter, or the parent, imprinting the child with a heritage that child will keep all his life, the writer, struggling to write a book, the frustrated artist, looking for a voice to articulate the void – they all did. They do.
Why don’t you?