Saturday, August 13, 2016

Can Creativity Exist in a Vacuum? And Who Gets to Say Yes?

 I've been reading The Idea Agent: The Handbook on Creative Processes, by Jonas Michanek and Andreas Breiler, for a grad class this summer.  Today's question:

Why Does No One Appreciate My Brilliant Idea?

In my mind, that translated to "My Brilliant Creation," which got me to thinking about a rather existential concept of self-fulfillment vs. the need for societal approval.  What causes people to create?  Sometimes it's boredom, sometimes necessity, sometimes intentional.  Let's assume that any creative energy expended for no reason other than personal satisfaction stems from boredom.  (No extrinsic reward - no grades, no compensation).  Necessity would be the opposite.  Assignments for school, work, or something that ultimately results in an item or idea worthy of sale, would fall in this category.  Intentional creativity would be akin to that classic scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers in Houston were challenged to use existing materials on the rocket to create a round filter from a square one.  

This all left me wondering whether creativity requires an audience.  (Insert tree-falling-in-forest analogy here.)  I've done millions of doodles in margins of agendas during meetings, some of which weren't immediately crumbled and filed in the circular file.  I've made play-doh snakes and LEGO creations and sand castles, and other temporary creations, only to crumble, crush, or break them apart, with few, and in some cases no, people viewing, appreciating, or critiquing the item.
In 2002, I travelled to NYC to the Whitney Museum, to view the Gee's Bend quilt exhibit.  The quilts on display had been made in the early 20th century in a small African-American community-Gee's Bend, Alabama (Arnett, Wardlaw, Livingston, & Beardsley, 2002).  While it was a fascinating collection of quilts, and the power of women to create out of almost nothing, there was literally NO CREATIVE INTENTION in terms of style, color or form, on the part of the makers.  One "quilt" consisted of a blue and white ticking fabric that had been part of a mattress, where someone had obviously given birth.  The giant stain left on the mattress had made it unusable, and the fabric had been re-purposed into a quilt. It was rather gross.  Yes, the quilts "spoke" about the ingenuity of the maternal spirit, and the task and lengths these women went to making something out of virutally nothing.  But nobody considered them to be artistic endeavors. In fact, there were videos playing throughout the exhibit where these women talked about how much they DETESTED sewing, and how amazed they were that anybody would want to even SAVE these quilts, let alone hang them in a museum and charge people to view them.  How could something be viewed as creative -- as art -- when the actual creator of the item didn't view it with that lens?
Art, creativity, and the creative spirit seem to be intertwined.  There really isn't, in my mind, a test worthy of a quantitative measurement of creativity -- despite Torrance's attempts to say otherwise.   What resonated with me was the last paragraph in Chapter 8; the single most important reason to engage in creative activity is tied to the individual "happier and more fulfilling life" that can be found in the creative process.
Because maybe, just maybe, that Kickstarter project that went unfunded this year will be celebrated in another form by another generation, much like those quilts.  And,  if the creator saw value and worth in the creation and received fulfillment from the process, then it was already worth it, right?

Arnett, W., Wardlaw, A. J., Livingston, J., & Beardsley, J. (2002). Gee’s bend to Rehoboth: The women and their Quilts. United States: Tinwood.
Michanek, J., & Breiler, A. (2013). The idea agent: The handbook on creative processes. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

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