Thursday, October 8, 2009


I think I'm a creative person, though for the longest time, I didn't. At least, I didn't think about it all when I was young, and through high school up until this summer in college, I never considered myself an artist. And I still don't.

That's my point now, though. I always considered creativity to be the ability to come up with something out of nothing with no more than a thought, to create art, to draw, to paint, to write lush prose and transcendent poetry - but that's not what it is. Creativity is the ability to make something new, that's true, but the definition of new doesn't have to include spontaneity. So what exactly is creativity?

Now, I don't usually doodle on my notes. Or I do, but I just make little pencil patterns that I erase within minutes. Why? Because I can't have an image just pop into my head and draw itself out through my hand.

I've never really been able to do that with writing either. I need something to prompt me, to guide my thoughts in a specific direction. I work much better within boundaries than without. Rules bring out the most of my creativity. I feel much more like I've accomplished something of worth when I've managed to fit my idea into a rhyme, or my words to the syllable pattern of a limerick. Or, as I've been doing more often of late, into a topic - unabbreviating acronyms in humorous ways (Acrobabble), writing stories of 50 words, no more, no less (WeBook).

What I've guessed is that this kind of writing feels more like a challenge, a puzzle, to me. That's what makes it so appealing, so rewarding to me, the puzzle-lover. But that realization (along with, of course, some prompting by articles and videos I ran across) opened the door for me to think about creativity in a different way. If I consider what I do in this way to be creativity, then anything that uses insight is creative.

Today's "Painting With Thought" column in the Daily Cal took this idea to what would seem to be the extreme.
At their core, all the arts are about realizing a vision using a certain basic toolset. With painters, that toolset is their brushes, berets, paint (and paintlike things, like strawberries or poop-Google it!-or whatever they're smearing on canvas these days). For musicians, it's the instruments they play. For writers, it's words and cigarettes. For chefs, it's their ingredients, their kitchen and Italian accents...It's exactly the same in programming. The only difference is that programmers use basic functions like plus, minus and equal, and the beauty of the final product is not the sight, sound or the taste but the visceral pleasure of perfect logic.
Although I agree that art (albeit not necessarily good art) can be present anywhere we look, I think you can also apply the same logic to the thought process behind it. Creativity means coming up with a new idea. Except new ideas don't exist. A "new idea" is simply a couple of old ideas remixed together, with a new beat. As such, creativity occurs whenever you place an old idea in a new context.

But this happens everywhere, all the time, in our everyday lives. So what do we consider creativity? Artistry, usually. The idea of creativity in our society is inevitably intertangled with the idea of aesthetic pleasure. There is, of course, a connotation of practicality, of invention, but when it happens in our daily lives, it is simply considered "resourcefulness."

We are all creative beings. We have, after all, evolved to survive, and creativity has been a large part in that. So even those who consider themselves scientists, mathematicians, completely left-brained, you are creative too. The only difference is that we don't call your insights "art".

And now, since we've established that we're all creative, I suggest all creative people watch this video of a TEDTalk by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging, and it'll give you a new way of thinking about yourself:
Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

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